Identifying Traffic Signals by Color


What kind of world would we live in without traffic signals? With a U.S. population of about 325 million, it’s no wonder why big cities (and most towns for that matter) have traffic signals to control the flow of traffic. You can find traffic signals along the side of the road and more commonly, above road intersections. Traffic signals can vary in style depending where in the U.S. you are, but all are now automated and operate similarly—to control the flow of traffic for drivers and pedestrians.

What Does Each Color in a Traffic Signal Mean?

Red Traffic Signal:

A red traffic light means stop. When approaching a red light at an intersection, the driver should come to a complete stop at the marked stop line. If there is not a marked stop line, the driver should stop before entering the crosswalk. If there is no crosswalk, the driver should stop before entering the intersection.

Note: Turning Right or Left on Red
If there no sign posted designating otherwise, you may make a right turn at a red light. You also may make a left turn at a red light when turning from a one-way street onto another one-way street that has traffic moving to the left. In both instances, drivers must come to a complete stop behind the stop line and yield the right-of-way to pedestrians and cross-traffic before turning.

Yellow Traffic Signal:

The yellow light warns that the signal is changing from green to red. When the red light appears, you may not enter the intersection.

Green Traffic Signal:

Yes, green means go, but  go after yielding the right-of-way to any pedestrians and vehicles in the intersection or crosswalk.

Flashing Red Traffic Signal:

Stop, yield the right-of-way to traffic within the intersection or crosswalk and proceed when safe. This sign is used at intersections when a stop sign alone is hard to see or where additional emphasis on the stop sign is needed. Flashing red traffic signals are also used at railroad crossings to warn of approaching trains.

Flashing Yellow Traffic Signal:

A flashing yellow traffic signal at an intersection means to proceed with caution.

Traffic Signal with a Green Arrow:

When the green arrow is pointed upward the driver may go straight ahead only. When the green arrow is pointed to the right the driver may turn to the right. When the green arrow is pointed to the left the driver may turn to the left. The driver does not need to stop if they are traveling in the direction of the arrow.

Traffic Signal with a Red Arrow:

A red arrow means do not make the movement shown by the arrow until a green arrow appears.

Flashing Red Arrow Traffic Signal:

A flashing red arrow should be treated as a ‘stop sign’. You may proceed once you stop and determine the intersection is clear of all pedestrians, vehicles, and other potential hazards.

How Many Colors are in a Traffic Signal?

Three: red, green, and yellow, but the overall design has changed over the years. Most notably all traffic signals these days are automated electric signals. The world’s first electric traffic signal was installed “on the corner of Euclid Avenue and East 105th Street in Cleveland, Ohio” in 1914. The colors are believed to have derived from early train signals from the 19th century.

What Should You Do If All Traffic Signal Lights Are Out?

A blacked-out traffic signal works the same as a four-way stop intersection. If you pull into an intersection and all traffic lights are out, you must stop at the intersection and then proceed when you know other turning and approaching vehicles, bicycles, or pedestrians have stopped.

Find your state’s driver handbook online and refresh your memory about signs and signals or consider taking an online refresher driving course to stay current with best driving practices.

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