By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.
It’s a common situation we experience day-to-day as drivers: You see the traffic light turn yellow and what begins is an internal monologue of whether to keep driving through it or slow down.
For many of us, the changing of traffic light colour from green to yellow ends up with the thought, “I’ll just keep quickly driving through the intersection before it changes to red”.
But is this actually ok? And what does the law say about driving through a yellow traffic light?
Is it Legal to Drive Through a Yellow Traffic Light?
It’s one of the most straightforward road rules around, but motorists keep getting it wrong – and so they keep paying the price.
State-wide, road rules advise that when you approach a yellow light, you must stop if you are safely able to do so before reaching the stop line.
If not before the stop line, then certainly before entering the intersection.
Indeed, in the hurried pace of our busy lives, many drivers ignore this road rule, thinking it doesn’t apply to them because they have places to be ASAP.
However, where driver thought becomes flawed is that they tend to think of the yellow light as an extension of the green light.
The fact of the matter is, however, that it is actually the start of the red traffic light and thus a warning to prepare to halt at the imminent red.
And it turns out that if you do decide to run the yellow light and get caught, you can actually be slammed with an enormous fine.
Increasing Number of Motorists Caught Running Yellow Traffic Lights
If you think that road rule sounds a little absurd, try this for painful statistics on how the humble traffic light rule is causing confusion – and a hell of a lot of fines – for drivers.
In 2017, Queensland drivers were thumped a tear-jerking $600,000 in fines for breaking the simple road rule. Ouch.
The Sunshine State drivers copped the hefty fines because they drove through yellow traffic lights – highlighting the illegality of doing so.
In Queensland, motorists who break this law face the same penalty as those who drive through a red light – a staggering $391 fine, along with three demerit points.
In fact, so unaware are Queensland motorists of this road rule that it is illegal to drive through yellow traffic lights that more than 5,300 drivers were caught breaking the rule since 2015, with 128 infringement notices – totalling almost $50,000 – issued in January 2018 alone.
Transport and Main Roads Warns Drivers Running Yellow Lights Risk Being Caught by Police
Speaking of the regularly-breached offence in Queensland, a Transport and Main Roads spokeswoman advised that drivers who break the rule risk being caught by police officers of traffic cameras.
“Motorists must stop on a yellow light unless it is unsafe to do so,” the spokeswoman said.
“If it unsafe to stop, such as being close to the light when it changes from green to yellow, you may proceed through the yellow light within the posted speed limit.”
Meanwhile, the Royal Automobile Club of Queensland (RACQ) bolstered this law, with a spokeswoman from the state’s peak motoring body reminding that the legislation exists to keep road users safe.
“The yellow light rule is there to indicate the light will soon turn red, so drivers can slow down and prepare to stop,” spokeswoman Renee Smith said.
“It’s not a signal to speed up to make it through the intersection. This kind of behaviour is reckless and dangerous.
“Police would have issued fines if these were 50-50 calls. They must have been blatant attempts to skip through the lights and it’s not on.”
In Queensland, the law on stopping for a yellow traffic light or arrow is contained in Rule 57 of the Transport Operations (Road Use Management – Road Rules) Regulation 2009.
All breaches of this law contain a maximum penalty of $2,200.
Can You Drive Through a Yellow Traffic Light in NSW?
As the NRMA advises, in NSW, drivers are required to slow down the traffic light signal turns yellow.
Further to this, as a general rule of thumb, you must stop before the stope line, unless you are too close to safely do so.
Hitting the breaks too rapidly means the car behind you may not have enough time to react, and this could result in situations such as rear-end crashes.
As a result, if you are too close to the stop line when the traffic lights change to yellow, it is best to continue at the same speed and pass through the intersection being very cautious of traffic.
In general, the time setting of a yellow light is governed by the road’s speed limit, and in some cases, by the grade of approach to the stop line. As such, yellow traffic light time settings are designed to allow sufficient time for vehicles to stop at the stop line.
What are the Penalties for Driving Through a Yellow or Amber Traffic Light in NSW?
In NSW, the law on driving through a yellow traffic light is outlined in Rule 57 Road Rules 2014 (NSW).
A driver who is approaching or is at a yellow traffic light is required to stop before reaching the stop line at or near the traffic lights unless he/she cannot do so safely.
A driver who is approaching or is at a yellow traffic light is required to stop before reaching the traffic lights if there is no stop line there unless he/she cannot do so safely.
A driver who is approaching or is at a yellow traffic light is required to stop before entering the intersection if the traffic light is at the intersection unless he/she cannot do so safely, but only if he/she is unable to safely stop in the above two outlined situations.
If a driver in the above situation enters the intersection, the driver is required to leave that intersection as soon as the driver can safely do so.
A driver who is approaching or is at a yellow traffic arrow to turn in the direction indicated by the arrow is required to stop before reaching the stop line at or near the traffic arrow unless he/she cannot do so safely.
A driver who is approaching or is at a yellow traffic arrow to turn in the direction indicated by the arrow is required to stop before reaching the arrow if there is no stop line there unless he/she cannot do so safely.
Finally a driver who is approaching or is at a yellow traffic arrow to turn in the direction indicated by the arrow is required to stop before entering the intersection if the traffic arrow is at the intersection unless he/she cannot do so safely, but only if he/she is unable to safely stop in the above two outlined situations.
Breaching any one of the above rules attracts a maximum penalty of $2,200 by a Court, but only if the person accused elects to have the matter heard in court. Otherwise, it attracts an on-the-spot fine or penalty notice of $448 with 3 demerit points. Where a person commits this offence in a school zone, the on-the-spot fine is $561 and 4 demerit points.
In summary, based on this rule, at yellow lights or arrows, it is a requirement to stop at traffic lights, stop lines and intersections if it is safe to do so.
Further to this, common sense advises that if you do go through a traffic light once it has turned yellow, it drastically increases your chances of running a red light, and if a red-light camera is in place, the consequence is an immediate fine of $448 and three demerit points.
Even worse, if you decide to speed above the speed limit in order to avoid being caught by the red-light camera, the inbuild red-light camera is likely to catch you, regardless of whether the lights are red, yellow or green.
If you have a question on this, our experienced Sydney city traffic lawyers appear across all courts in NSW with 8 offices. Call our 24/7 hotline on (02) 8606 2218.