You see it on the road wherever there is a set of traffic lights – people tend to think that a yellow or amber light means “quick before it turns red”. But in reality, you should stop if it is safe to do so.
- A red light camera might not catch you, but a police officer can
- Fines and demerit points apply if you are caught
- Never speed to “make yellow”
It may seem obvious, but green means go. Not yellow. However, there are many examples of drivers speeding to get through an intersection on a yellow light.
But did you know that, in most situations, the penalty is about the same between running a yellow light and getting caught for running a red?
Across Australia, legislation around traffic lights is framed around the premise of safety – and, for yellow lights, being able to stop safely in the situation you’re in. And remember that in almost all situations where a traffic light is operating, there will be a line on the road indicating where you should stop – either stop for a yellow light, or a red light.
Okay, so what can stop you from stopping your progress safely at a yellow traffic light?:
- Conditions – whether the road is wet or dry, and whether visibility is good or not. If it’s dry and clear, you’re more likely to be in contention to run yellow.
- Also, the close distance to other vehicles behind you – so, if you’re being followed and think you’re braking hard it could result in an accident.
- Any attempted braking – if you try to brake but then don’t stop, that could be a red flag.
- And show off any acceleration to try and beat the light. Pretty obvious, right?
Keep in mind that if you run a yellow or red light in a company vehicle, some jurisdictions can fine you thousands of dollars for the offense.
Here is a list of regulations from several Australian jurisdictions:
New South Wales
The NSW state transport page states: “A yellow (amber) light means you must stop. You can only go through a yellow light if you cannot stop safely before the ‘Stop’ line.”
If you fail to obey the instructions, the NSW Road Rules 2014, rule 57, have a number of possible offenses that you may be charged with depending on the type of intersection and the actions taken by the driver, all of which attract three demerit points and $464 fine. That’s the same as if you ran a red (NSW Road Rules 2014, rules 59 & 60).
The QLD state transport page states a yellow light means you should stop if it is safe to do so.
“If it is safe to stop, you must not drive past the stop line at a yellow traffic light or, if there is no stop line, a traffic light.”
And if you could have stopped but didn’t, you can get a ticket for “Failure to stop for a yellow traffic light or arrow”, which under the Queensland Road Rules – Section 57, can get you three demerit points and a $575 fine.
Victoria’s words on the topic are that for yellow lights, “you must stop unless you cannot stop safely”. If you’re found guilty, the fine could be $413 and three demerit points.
In Adelaidethe Driver’s Handbook states that a yellow light “indicates that the light will change to red”, and that “you must not enter an intersection unless you are so close to the stop line that you cannot stop safely without entering the intersection or risk a rear-end accident with vehicle following you”. Pretty specific, that. However, there doesn’t seem to be any penalty for doing the wrong thing, with the MyLicence SA page only calling out the rule for “Running a red light”, stating that if you “Fail to stop for a traffic light red” [ARR 56(1)]you can be fined $515 and three demerit points.
Perth also appears to have a more lenient approach to yellow traffic lights, with the state’s offense being “Driving through a red light”. It could set you back $300 if you’re fined, and three demerit points.
Australian Capital Territory
The ACT maybe a roundhouse, but there are still traffic lights, and still rules about how they should be interpreted. The ACT Policing website states: “Speeding through a yellow light instead of stopping because you’re in a hurry to get home, may end up with you never getting home.”
The website says officers target offenses such as: running red lights and red arrows; accelerate for a yellow light instead of braking; not stopping or giving way at an intersection; not using circles correctly or not showing circles.”
Get caught doing the wrong thing at a yellow light in the nation’s capital and you could be fined $502 and get three demerit points.
Inside NT, there are two levels of penalties for traffic light offences. Under rules 39 and 44, if you are found to have “failed to obey a red light”, you can be fined $240. For “failing to obey a yellow traffic light”, the fine is $100.
Hobart has a slightly different interpretation, with the state’s transport page stating: “A yellow traffic light is very important because it gives you enough warning to stop before the light turns red. As you approach an intersection with a traffic light, pay attention to the color of the traffic light. If you see that the light has been green for some time as you approach, be prepared that it may turn yellow. If the light has turned yellow and you are still a safe distance from the intersection and can stop safely, you cannot drive through the yellow light.”
The fine for the offense of “Failure to stop at a yellow light when it is safe to do so and/or proceed before permission” is $136, but it can get you three demerit points.
Not intended as legal advice. Check with the relevant road authorities in your state or territory.