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How well do you know your traffic lights?

Photograph by: Times Colonist

Photograph by: Times Colonist

By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist, August 14th 2013 

Traffic lights are often misunderstood. Here is a quick reminder of their intent.

A solid-red traffic light with an accompanying white “I” symbol gives transit-bus drivers priority passage, allowing them to proceed through the red light while all other traffic at the intersection is held back. This right-of-way makes it easier for bus drivers to get passengers to their destination without having to merge with other traffic at busy highway intersections. The more people ride the bus, the fewer vehicles are on the road. It’s an obvious courtesy extended to transit drivers because they reduce traffic congestion.

A solid-red traffic light means come to a full stop and do not proceed until the light turns green and it is safe to do so. Drivers may turn right or left (onto a one-way street) only after stopping completely and making sure it is safe to do so. One of the more common reasons for failing a driver’s test is not making a full stop prior to turning right on a red light. It’s a traffic offence that is seldom subject to enforcement and puts pedestrians and rubber-tire travellers at significant risk.

A flashing-red light means the same as a stop sign. It’s important to stop before the natural path of pedestrians, not necessarily at the stop sign. If the driver cannot see clearly after the first stop, it’s proper to move forward to a point that will allow for an unobstructed view. Some drivers who are taking the driver’s road test for the first time misunderstand the light’s meaning and stop for an inordinate amount of time, waiting for the light to turn green. An automatic failure usually results.

A solid-amber traffic light means stop, unless the driver is in the intersection or so close as to be unable to safely stop. It does not mean speed up to make it through the intersection. A flashing-amber light means use caution at the intersection.

A solid-green traffic light means proceed when it’s safe to do so. A flashing-green traffic light is controlled by a pedestrian push button. Once the button is pushed, the light may go through a solid green, amber and red cycle. (Watch for Manitoba drivers who think that a flashing-green traffic light means all oncoming traffic is being held up to allow for an advanced left turn, as this is the rule in their province.)

A flashing green arrow allows drivers to make an unobstructed turn in the direction of the arrow. If it is simultaneously displayed with a solid-green light, through traffic in the same direction may also proceed. A solid-red traffic light, with a green flashing light, does not allow same-direction vehicles to go through the intersection, as there will be simultaneous oncoming left turners using the intersection. It is very important that drivers stop on top of the magnetic looping pads at each intersection. These magnets sense vehicles and send electronic messages to switching devices that change the traffic lights appropriately.

A flashing yellow arrow pointing in the direction of the turn means stop, unless a driver is in the intersection or so close as to make stopping hazardous.

Horizontal flashing “X” traffic lights denote proper travel lanes on multi-lane reverse time-flow operations. Appropriate travel lanes will reverse to accommodate rush-hour traffic into and out of major cities on roads, bridges and tunnels. A flashing red “X” means do not drive in this lane. A flashing yellow “X” means the lane is about to go into a reverse-direction phase and you must change to a lane with a flashing green “X” light to be in an appropriate flow.

Steve Wallace is the owner of Joan Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and in the Central Interior of B.C. He is the former Western Canadian vice-president of the Driving Schools Association of the Americas and a registered B.C. teacher.





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