Traffic Lights

When it comes to traffic lights it is likely that you are already very familiar with how they work as a pedestrian. However, as a driver, you need to make sure that you are fully aware of what each light means and how you can approach traffic lights safely. This is essential in terms of both passing your practical driving test and ensuring you are a safe driver going forward as you drive independently.

Types of Traffic Lights

As our roads grow ever busier we are increasingly seeing traffic lights put in place to help control the traffic, and to keep the roads safe. You will see traffic lights not only on pedestrian crossings but also on roundabouts, junctions where traffic is filtered and possibly when roadworks are being undertaken you may find temporary traffic lights in place.

Traffic Lights Explained

Red: Stop and wait at the stop line.

Red and Amber: Prepare to move off but wait until the green shows to set off.

Green: You can go if it is safe to do so.

Amber: Amber is indicating that you need to stop. If you are over the line when the lights change you can continue, or if you are unable to stop safely as you are too close to the lights also go through.

Approaching Traffic Lights

When there are traffic lights ahead you may be given a warning sign like the one shown below. However, you will not always be provided with such a sign so be prepared to see traffic lights wherever you are driving.

If you can see traffic lights ahead, or you have seen a warning sign, use the Mirror Signal Manoeuvre (MSM) routine as you slow down and draw nearer to the lights. Even if the lights are on green you need to be prepared to stop as they could change as you get closer to them.

Always check your mirrors on approach to determine how much you need to slow down and so that you can judge the distance between yourself and the driver behind you. It is important not to automatically stop when the lights change to amber as the person behind you may be close behind and could crash into you. Judge the situation as you approach and decide whether it is safer to stop or to drive through the amber light. Remember, the amber light is there for a reason and it is up to you to decide what the safest action is.

Some drivers get tempted to “beat the lights” and speed upon approach to traffic lights so that they don’t have to stop. This is unsafe driving practice and can lead to drivers being caught going through a red light or for speeding, and is dangerous to pedestrians.

If you need to change lane before stopping at the lights make sure that you do this as soon as possible and clearly signal so that pedestrians and drivers around you know what you are doing. If the light is on flashing amber as you are approaching the lights and there are still pedestrians crossing, make sure that you stop and give them time to get across the road.

Stopping at Traffic Lights

There will be lane markings on the approach to the traffic lights which indicate where you should stop. Sometimes, when there are traffic lights at a junction, you will see that there is a cycle box which is the space for cyclists to wait when the lights are on red. You must avoid crossing over into this box.

If you are driving in slow-moving traffic it can sometimes be tricky to avoid entering this box and you may be caught in it as the lights change. It is always the priority to stop when the lights indicate but you can avoid stopping in the cycling box by leaving ample room between you and the car in front of you when traffic is moving slowly.

At pedestrian crossings, you must stop where the lane markings indicate. Having your vehicle on the pedestrian crossing can incur fines or points on your licence, and is a common cause of learner drivers failing their driving test. To avoid this happening make sure you make sure that you are in tune to the traffic lights when traffic is flowing, and when in slow moving traffic ensure that you have enough space to clear the crossing before driving across it.

Moving off from Traffic Lights

When the lights indicate that you can move again make sure that all of the pedestrians have finished crossing the road (if at a pedestrian crossing) and that the coast is clear ahead before moving off. Check in your mirrors before moving off and keep an eye out for bikes that may be speeding past on your left and motorcycles that may be overtaking you on the right.

Green Filter Arrows

Something that can easily catch learner drivers out, and needs to be paid extra careful attention to, are green filter lights. These green arrows tell you to filter in the direction of that arrow, so the main light might still be on red but if the filter light shows green and that is the direction you are going in, you can set off.

Take care to take extra caution if the green arrow goes out as you get closer to the lights, this may mean that the opposite traffic has been given a green light and you will now need to give way as usual (if you are turning right for instance).


Safely approaching traffic lights is all about being prepared and making sure that, as a driver, you are always tuned in to what is around you and what is coming up on the road ahead of you. You will have plenty of opportunities to practice traffic lights during your driving lessons so that by the time it comes to your driving test you will be adept at dealing with them properly and safely.