This Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

You’ve seen these lights all over the place, usually dangling over busy intersections. But, have you ever wondered what the different colors are meant to signify? I did, so I did a little research. Many years ago, these “red” lights were actually used to signal drivers to stop, usually at intersections. This practice has long been abandoned, so I’ve studied how today’s drivers behave around these color-changing signals. I’m now convinced that it no longer has anything to do with stopping. As I’m always looking for ways to improve the driving skills of everyone else on the road, I thought I’d tcloseup-traffic-signal-showing-red.jpgry to offer some insight into this curious pendulum of light.

If you are presented with this “red light” signal, you are supposed to quickly glance to your left, decide whether there is a space at least the length of your car plus an extra foot or two, and then accelerate quickly into that space without slowing down at the signal. Awareness of the capabilities of your vehicle will be required in this situation. If you are driving a Camaro SS, Mustang GT, or BMW, you may be able to enter a much smaller space on a road with much higher speeds. Be brave and go for it! Slowing down in this situation might cause other vehicles to hit you from behind, and I don’t think you want this. Please be courteous to the drivers behind you! 

Now a word of caution for those of you on opposing streets. You are no doubt facing a green or yellow one, and your response could be slightly different. If your signal is green, this means that you should move your foot from the accelerator to cover the brake pedal. A green signal simply means that your path is about to be interrupted, possibly unexpectedly if you happen to be glancing at a phone, changing the radio station (in antique cars without steering wheel controls), or trying to get your coffee cup back into the cup holder. The green signal is a mere convenience to help you prepare for those events. It has nothing at all to do with the antiquated, “right of way” concepts as was once believed decades ago.

Those of you facing a yellow signal have a choice to make, and your choice affects everyone else on the road. Your role is about to change, so you will be expected to merge with traffic that is trying to turn right and drivers who are trying to time their entry onto the road you’re on. Be courteous! Accelerate promptly so that those drivers know they need to fall in line behind you, and they will have to time their entry to be between your car and the one behind you that is also trying to get through on the yellow. If you are accelerating, please blare your horn for at least five seconds. This signals to any driver who is trying to merge in front of you that he has limited time and that the space required for his vehicle is getting shorter. It might help to wave one arm, hand, or finger to the driver so he knows that you are aware he is merging.

By now, I hope you better understand your responsibilities when approaching these tri-colored merging lights. They really are very convenient once you’ve become accustomed to their proper use. And now for the most important question of all…

What color should the fourth color on these signals be, and what would they signal the driver to do? Hmm…

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