Why traffic lights can leave me seeing red

Andy Russell, motoring editor. Twitter @andyrussellauto

I’ve always had something of a dilemma when traffic lights change from green to amber as you approach them – do you brake or carry on?

I don’t think there is any easy answer – it depends on so many factors including the state of the road, the weather and whether anything is behind you and, if so, how close.

When I was learning to drive in the late Seventies I recall a set of traffic light turning to amber and, feeling I was too close to stop, carried on, only for my instructor to brake. We ended up halfway across the lights and I never want to be in that predicament again!

I make every effort to stop at traffic lights when they turn to amber if it is safe and I have the distance to do so. But a couple of times, when I have had a car or a van following me, I have played it safe and gone across on amber only for the next one or even two vehicles to follow me through when the lights must have been red. Had I decided to brake I surely would have been shunted from the rear.

It would be so much easier if you had more warning, such as the green light flashing for two or three seconds before the amber light came on ahead of it turning red. It would just give a bit more warning and thinking time although there is also the argument that it might make the ‘amber gamblers’ put their foot down to get across before the lights go red.

A few years ago on a family holiday on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast we hired a car and I was fascinated by a set of traffic lights on a main road near Varna which actually showed a countdown in seconds of how long the lights would stay green or red so you could prepare to slow down and get ready to pull away.

It worked brilliantly and, although I passed through them no more than a dozen times, I never saw anyone abusing it by speeding up to them nip through.

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