Intersections are a hotbed for car accidents. Between dangerous unprotected left turns and drivers running red lights, there’s a lot to be wary of. Yet there’s one potential hazard that most drivers aren’t aware of: yellow lights. To illustrate why this is a problem, we need to look at some of the key problems with yellow lights.
Have you ever found that sometimes you can get a yellow light when you’re 100ft away from the intersection and you still make it through before the light turns red? Yet other times, you can be at the white line when it turns yellow and find it turns red while you’re still in the intersection? There’s a reason for this.
Yellow lights aren’t standardized in the United States. In most cases, they’re not even standardized in the same city. The only federal guidelines for yellow lights are that they last somewhere between 3-6 seconds, depending on the intersection.
When drivers don’t know how long a yellow light will last, they’re more likely to engage in unsafe behaviors and run a red light. That, in turn, dramatically increases the risk of a t-bone or a head-on collision.
There’s evidence to suggest that longer yellow lights actually increase the risk of a crash. In 2008 Georgia passed a state law extending all yellow lights by 1 second. That year, red-light-related fatalities increased by 51% statewide. By 2011, red-light fatalities were 88% higher.
The longer the yellow light, the more likely drivers are to view a yellow light the same way they view a green light. Instead of safely stopping, long yellow lights encourage drivers to take risks and potentially run red lights. However, that may inadvertently lead to more crashes and more fatalities.