Red, Yellow, & Green: Looking at Yellow, Learning More About Red and Green

Ask any young child and chances are the child will tell you that, in the world of traffic signals (and in the world of playground games) red mean stop and green means go. The youngster might have a bit more difficulty explaining the meaning of a yellow light. They might recite a "caution" explanation taught in school or, sometimes to Mom and Dad's chagrin, describe their parents' reaction to a yellow light: "My Dad says yellow means 'hurry up!'" Unfortunately, our Northwest Florida traffic injury lawyer has found adults aren't always any more certain about the meaning of yellow lights than preschoolers.

Crash Sends 7 to the Hospital, Yellow Lights Eyed

Changing traffic lights appear to have played a role in an accident that sent seven people to the hospital on Tuesday. WJHG reports that the accident occurred just before 5 P.M. at the intersection of Highway 231 and East Avenue in Panama City's Hiland Park. Police say a silver SUV attempted to turn left onto East Avenue and was hit by a white Nissan that was travelling north on 231. The officers further said that the light was "changing yellow" at the time of the collision. An investigation is on-going.

As a result of the crash, the SUV became airborne and landed on its side. Paramedics took all three occupants of the Nissan and all four occupants of the SUV to the hospital. An adult was partially ejected from a vehicle and a young child was completely ejected.

Understanding Yellow Lights

Part of the confusion over yellow lights may stem from the fact that state laws vary on their meaning. As a brief on red-light running authored by the Federal Highway Administration notes, referencing 2009 laws, at least half of states use a permissive yellow law, which means a driver may legally enter the intersection on yellow and can be in the intersection during a red so long as he entered on yellow.

Other states use a restrictive yellow law that provides either:

  1. Vehicles can neither enter nor be present in the intersection on a red.
  2. Vehicles must stop on yellow unless they cannot stop safely.

The FHWA noted that any campaign to prevent red-light crashes must include educating the public about their state's yellow light rule.

What does Florida law say? Section 316.075(1)(b) of the Traffic Code provides that: "Vehicular traffic facing a steady yellow signal is thereby warned that the related green movement is being terminated or that a red indication will be exhibited immediately thereafter when vehicular traffic shall not enter the intersection." Unfortunately, that provision doesn't really clarify much.

Notably, the prior subsection on green lights mentions the need to yield to other vehicles or pedestrians that are lawfully in the intersection at the time the green appears. Various commentators on Florida and other bodies of law have found such language implies a permissive yellow rule since that makes it possible for a vehicle to be in the intersection when that vehicle has a red signal (meaning the cross-traffic's signal just turned green).

Proceed With Caution

A permissive yellow law may increase traffic flow, but may also lead to more accidents. Permissive yellow rules mean a driver cannot simply hit the accelerator the moment the light turns green since, even assuming everyone is obeying the law, the intersection may still be occupied. The preschool definitions are, ultimately, overly simplistic; in Florida, both green and yellow lights should be read as "proceed with caution."

If another driver acted negligently and caused an accident that injured you or a loved one, our Panama City accident attorney can help. Call today.

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