Do you know the correct way to respond to a yellow light? Getting it wrong may cost you dearly. 

Understanding traffic lights are one of the most important road rules for motorists. Even as children, an integral part of road safety is knowing that ‘red means stop’ and ‘green means go’.

When it comes to amber or yellow lights, however, some confusion remains within the community about what the yellow light really means and the correct way to respond.

VicRoads states that at a yellow light, motorists must “must stop unless you can’t stop safely”, which has been described as meaning that motorists should view yellow lights as the start of red lights, not the end of a green light. When in doubt, stop! (unless suddenly braking would be likely to result in an accident)

Can I be fined for driving through a yellow light? 

Simply put, yes. If you drive through a yellow light when you could have safely stopped prior to the intersection you are likely to be fined.

The penalties for driving through a yellow light in Victoria include the loss of three demerit points and up to 2.5 penalty units. For the 2022/2023 year, one penalty unit is equivalent to $184.92. This means you can be fined up to $462.30 for going through a yellow light.

If you choose to dispute the fine in court and lose, up to ten penalty units can be applied, translating to a $1,849 fine.

What should I do if I see a yellow traffic light?

If you are so close to the intersection that you need to slam on the brakes to stop, or that braking would have you stop in the middle of the intersection, then you should proceed through the yellow light. If you can stop without having to slam the brakes, then you should not proceed.

It’s also good to check your mirrors and be aware of surrounding traffic as you approach an intersection. How other vehicles are behaving around you may also influence your decision if the lights do turn yellow. If a car is tailgating you, the safest decision may be to proceed through a yellow light to avoid sudden braking that could cause a collision.

Depending on the local speed limit, yellow lights last for between three and five seconds (with higher speed limits requiring longer durations for safety reasons). Failing to respond appropriately to a yellow light risks not just financial penalties, but also collisions with other vehicles.

What do flashing yellow lights mean?

Occasionally you might come across an intersection where the traffic lights are flashing yellow. This usually indicates that the lights are not working. Police traffic controllers are usually quick to the scene to direct traffic when this occurs.

However, sometimes you may arrive at such an intersection before the police. In these circumstances you must follow the same rules as an intersection that features only a stop or a give way sign.

That includes giving way to any vehicle approaching the intersection from the right, as well as any oncoming traffic travelling straight or turning left if you yourself want to turn right. The safest option when faced with such an intersection is to make a left turn (which will have the least amount of intersecting traffic) and find an alternate route to your destination.

Yellow arrows

The same rules apply to yellow arrow traffic lights as they do for regular yellow traffic lights. That means you should not enter the intersection if you’re able to safely stop prior to it.

Disclaimer: This publication contains comments of a general and introductory nature only and is provided as an information service. It is not intended to be relied upon as, nor is it a substitute for specific professional legal advice. You should always speak to us and obtain legal advice before taking any action relating to matters raised in this publication.