Attention Drivers: You Don’t Stop On a Flashing Yellow Light

Illustration for article titled Attention Drivers: You Don’t Stop On a Flashing Yellow Light

At first, I was planning to write today's column about electric cars. But then I got about halfway through it, and I made an important realization: nobody cares about electric cars. So instead, I'm going to cover another highly important issue affecting our society: minor traffic annoyances.


The annoyance I'm specifically referring to here is a safety concern, which is why I've decided once again to don my cap as Doug DeMuro: Safety Crusader in order to bring you all the important details. You may remember that I've done this before in several critically acclaimed columns, like the one where I asserted that you will probably be killed by a lifted pickup truck, and the one where I told you that you should be sent to prison without trial if you get in an HOV lane and don't speed recklessly.


Well, today's topic is far more important than any of those, largely because it highlights a serious issue that appears to be rapidly affecting drivers all across the nation: a complete inability to comprehend even the most basic traffic laws. More specifically, I'm referring to the laws that govern flashing yellow lights.

For those of you who aren't aware of the flashing yellow light concept, allow me to provide some background. Here's how it works: you have a construction crew jackhammering away on a new housing development, except that this is a union construction crew, which means they're governed by union rules, which means they must take a union-mandated break every 45 seconds to smoke cigarettes and discuss the Buffalo Bills. Well, one of these conversations spills over into jackhammering time, and the next thing you know, the jackhammer guy becomes distracted and he hammers straight through the wires that control the traffic lights. ("DAMN, PHIL! YOU JACKHAMMERED THOSE WIRES LIKE THE BILLS OFFENSE!")

So what do these construction workers do? Obviously, they take immediate and decisive action in the form of a union-mandated break to smoke cigarettes and discuss the Buffalo Bills. And what do the traffic lights do? Well, they start flashing, of course.

Usually, the way it works is this: if the traffic lights stop working at a busy intersection, the busier of the two intersection streets gets a yellow flashing light, while the less busy intersection gets a flashing red light. That's right, folks: two flashing lights, with two different colors, meaning two different things. And what are those two different meanings? If you asked most modern drivers, I suspect you would receive roughly the following answer:

Flashing Red Light: Come to a complete stop. Proceed when clear.

Flashing Yellow Light: Come to a complete stop. Look around in utter confusion, as if your husband just called and insisted that you must come home at once, because the microwave is attacking the cats. Proceed when clear.


Well, just so everyone understands, this isn't the way to handle these intersections. On the contrary, I looked up my local state law governing flashing traffic lights, and I discovered the following highly informative explanation right there in the statute:

PURSUANT to the AFOREMENTIONED TERMINOLOGY, all drivers must come to a complete stop at a flashing red light and HERTOFORE proceed when clear. At a yellow light, all drivers must proceed THROUGH THE INTERSECTION with caution. Do not stop. No, really, DO NOT stop. Yes, that includes you, lady in the PT Cruiser.


Just to be clear, it seems that a yellow flashing light means that you must proceed with caution, rather than come to a complete stop. So the other day, I arrived at an intersection with flashing lights, and I decided to test out this rule for myself by proceeding straight through on yellow without stopping. And do you know what happened?

I'll tell you what happened! Pure, unadulterated anger from virtually every other driver at the intersection. Seriously: there was so much honking that I think fewer people would've gotten mad at me if I had walked into the intersection and started chanting "CANCER IS GREAT!!!" while burning an American flag. "Look at this 'CANCER IS GREAT' weirdo," people would say. "At least he's crossing on a green light."


So my mission with this column is to educate you, the American driver, on these simple rules: when the light is flashing red, you stop. When the light is flashing yellow, you proceed with caution. And if you're holding a jackhammer, for God's sake, quit talking about the Buffalo Bills.

@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn't work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.


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