We Teach Driving Like Your Life Depends On It

Take a cautious approach to stop lights

By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist August 4, 2011

Never make the decision to stop or go on a solid amber traffic light. If you choose to do so, it is already too late to make a good decision.

Most drivers have never been taught the proper way to approach the solid green amber-red traffic light. All too many try to make an instant split-second choice to stop or go through the intersection, often with tragic results.

Here is the safest way to drive through the typical signalized intersections, which most of us see every day.

When you approach an intersection, the decision to go or stop at that intersection should be made on the green solid traffic light. By repeating to yourself the intention to stop as you approach the intersection, you are actually making a decision to stop if the traffic light should change from green to amber when you have ample time to brake to a smooth stop.

Once you have reached the point of no return, that being the distance so close to the intersection as to make a safe stop impossible, it is safe to proceed through the intersection. Every driver should lift the foot off the accelerator and cover the brake prior to most every intersection approach.

When the point of no return is reached, a driver should move the foot back to the accelerator and proceed through the intersection. In this way the driver will be anticipating a signal change and not be surprised into making a snap decision. If the traffic light should change to amber after the driver has moved the foot back to the accelerator, there will be ample time and space to clear the intersection. It is important to not increase speed through the intersection upon an amber traffic light change.

Drivers who have to do this are seen to be in violation for two reasons. The first reason is simple. They are over committing at the intersection and will not be able to stop for unforeseen circumstances. The second reason is more about enforcement than anything else. Veteran police officers will tell you they are much more likely to issue a traffic ticket to a driver who speeds through the intersection, than one who coasts through. Logic tells the enforcement officer whether the driver had to increase speed in order to get through the intersection in time or whether the driver had ample time to safely stop.

Every student, who is learning to drive from a professional instructor practices the above mentioned approach technique. In fact, most are asked to verbalize their response when approaching a stale green traffic light. (A stale green light is one which has been green for a long time and is likely to change at any moment). Driving students will often repeat the words, “I am going to stop if the light changes”, several times as they approach an intersection. When they get too close for a safe stop, they will announce their intention to proceed. Drivers should always check the rear view mirror prior to the intersection approach. It may have a direct bearing on whether the driver should proceed or not.

Drivers should also pay particular attention to the pedestrian signals when approaching intersections. The display of the white walking stickman, is a good indication that the traffic light will not change in the near term. The solid or flashing red hand means that the change is imminent. Lately there have been advances in pedestrian warning lights. Some actually count down the second before a sequence change. This makes it much easier for everyone to estimate the sequence change, pedestrians and drivers alike.

More people are killed and seriously injured at intersections than anywhere else. For this reason alone, all drivers should have a plan of approach.

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