Monday, May 3, 2010

Amber Lights...MEAN STOP!!

A couple of weeks ago, I was waiting to cross a fairly large intersection. I was crossing on foot from the south to the north. I watched the east/west lights signal to amber. Like I always have, I watched the vehicles that A.) needed to continue through the intersection, B.) the ones that should have stopped and C.) the ones that were stopped waiting to turn do so, and then D.) finally the dance of danger was complete when the red light runners made their way through.

A few hours later I watched it all unfold, but this time as a driver, not a pedestrian. 3 cars turned on the amber. 1 in the intersection, 1 on the stop line, 1 from behind the stop line. A pedestrian crossing had to hold for the last car to clear before hustling his butt across the road.

So once I got to my destination, I Tweeted this:

I received several comments that indicated to me that some education was required so here it is.
Ontario Highway Traffic Act, Section 144 covers the following information regarding Amber Lights:

Amber light

(15) Every driver approaching a traffic control signal showing a circular amber indication and facing the indication shall stop his or her vehicle if he or she can do so safely, otherwise he or she may proceed with caution. R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8, s. 144 (15).

Amber arrow

(16) Every driver approaching a traffic control signal showing an amber arrow indication only or in combination with another indication and facing the indication shall stop his or her vehicle if he or she can do so safely, otherwise he or she may proceed with caution to follow the direction shown by the amber arrow indication. R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8, s. 144 (16).

Flashing amber

(17) Every driver approaching a traffic control signal showing a flashing circular amber indication and facing the indication may proceed with caution. R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8, s. 144 (17)

Pretty simple, if its amber, your first priority is to stop safely. 2nd, if you can't stop safely, you must proceed with caution.

So in the simplest of terms, an amber light means STOP. Most people see it only as warning that the light is about to change red so they take the chance that they can make it through. We have seen so many collisions because of that mentality. Drivers waiting to turn figuring they have to clear the intersection and the drivers coming towards them assume that they will make it on the amber. The driver making the turn can't move until they are sure that the turn can be made safely. I have investigated many collisions like this and the turning driver believes that they had the right of way because they had to get out of the intersection. (Another blog post at another time).

But, here is something hardly anyone knows. Failing to stop for an amber light, used to carry the same penalties as red light offences. Cost to you for a failing to stop for amber? $180 + 3 demerit points. ( Just recently red light offences monetary penalty increased.)

Specific Situation - Turns

Technically, you can not enter an intersection unless you can clear that intersection in one motion without impeding other traffic (which includes pedestrians and cyclists).

We all know that when you are turning left, you enter the intersection, wait for oncoming traffic to clear and then turn...after looking to make sure your path is clear (which includes pedestrians and cyclists).

What happens when the light turns amber? Well, since you are in the intersection you have to clear it. So once it is safe to do so, you clear. But, what we often see is four or five more cars that were waiting use the amber time to turn, which usually also means the red light time. This is dangerous and leads to reduced traffic flow as the cross traffic has to wait for you to clear.

If you are stopped behind the stop line, you CAN NOT PROCEED on an amber. Offence? Yes, Amber light, fail to stop or what normally happens...Red Light, proceed before green because the light has changed. (On a side note...I used to camp out and lay those charges at many intersections downtown. Ever drive from SB University to EB Adelaide?)

So here is the big conclusion:

Amber Light = Stop if safe to do so

Red Light = Stop

Green Light = Proceed with caution, if safe to do so

Whats your thought on this? Is there anymore clarification required? Tell me if you have been in any of those situations.


  1. I think this needs to be enforced. Otherwise its basically an empty threat (The law itself). I believe that drivers should only receive warnings if we have not yet received our full licenses. At that point, we are responsible for our actions, and have passed every test as required by law to be able to operate a motor vehicle safely. Failure to do so should give us punishment by the fullest extent of the law. Word will spread. Things will change.

  2. I think a lot of drivers know this, but think they can get away with it anyway, because of poor enforcement. I was glad to see Toronto Police doing a check for this specifically at Don Mills and Eglinton a few weeks ago, and hopefully elsewhere. My understanding is that under insurance fault determination rules, if you turn into the path of an oncoming vehicle, you are 100% at fault for the collision, regardless of the state of the light. Correct?

  3. John; Thanks so much for your words. I agree enforcement is a key to this. Education and awareness, like this post, only go so far.
    I don't totally agree though that new drivers should only receive warnings. We need to set the standard of acceptable road use right from the start.
    Lets keep spreading the word!

  4. Hey Greg; Thanks for your comments. I am not sure on how the insurance industry regulates fault, but I have never heard of any situation where 100% fault is ever determined to one person. I was once told that even if you are stopped at a red light and get rear ended, there is fault to assessed to you just for being there. I would imagine that it would be pretty minimal though.
    Maybe someone from the insuracnce industry could weigh in on that.
    Glad to hear that you saw some of our men and women out there looking at this offence.

  5. Actually all 3 lights mean Stop.

    Red is obvious. Always stop for red.
    Many don't but they are not intelligent.

    Amber means stop, or more realistically prepare to stop as Red is coming soon. Obviously if it's amber as you enter the intersection you cannot stop safely so proceed cautiously. Many motorists feel the amber combined with a pedestrian countdown is their window to go through. If I'm a fair distance back, I'm stopping, even if it's still amber when I get there, the red is imminent.

    Green, can we please put the myth of Go behind us?
    Green means Proceed if and when the way is clear, period. Not sure how the Highway Traffic Act words it, but green lights exist on the opposite side of the intersection you're crossing. If there is no room, you do not GO! Green means stop in this case.
    Lakeshore east in morning, and West in pm is very problematic on this issue Bathurst area especially. Worst intersection is Threthewey Yore Keele combo, motorists actually attempt to create extra lanes while parking through the intersection, at every sequence, that's not including the school entrance they block as well.

    So if you've paid attention, all lights mean stop if it is not safe to proceed, which on a red is never, on an amber is possible, and on a green, only if conditions allow.

    This is in my books too, comedically, but educationally. www dot (myfullname) dot com

  6. Hey Tim Great Post.
    I enjoyed this one, because I am sure that every one has been guilty of rushing through an amber light at one time or another. (Not me of course :D )

    As for establishing fault regarding insurance I'd like to cover 2 scenarios.
    For example: If we are considering a instance where by vehicle A is traveling south bound and vehicle B is making a left hand turn to travel westbound from the northbound lanes and these 2 vehicles are involved in a collision, then it in the eyes of the insurer would be considered 100% vehicle B's fault.
    This is true regardless of traffic light colour.
    In a situation where vehicle A is posturing to make a left hand turn from the northbound lanes to the westbound lanes and vehicle B is heading eastbound, runs a red light and collides with vehicle a then vehicle B is 100% at fault.

    In my experience as a broker I have only seen 100% at fault, 50% at fault and 0% fault when examining a client or prospective clients Autoplus (insurance history).

    I hope to have addressed any questions that may have sprung up during this blog post.

    Have a great day all.

  7. Also I just wanted to say that it was difficult to give those examples with out an actual diagram ... Sorry about that.

  8. "If there is no room, you do not GO! Green means stop in this case."


    Ever been to Front & Spadina intersection between the hours of 3pm to 6pm?

    At any given time in that period there are at least 3-4 cars on EVERY CHANGE OF LIGHTS breaking that rule, and blocking the intersection for the oncoming traffic... where are the cops handing out tickets when you need them, eh? And at least 2 days of the week the traffic travelling on Front heading east in that intersection will be backed up for 3-4 light changes, moving only a few cars at a time just because the traffic heading west/south to Gardiner exit doesn't care about the potential oncoming traffic - they see green light and for them that blindly means go, no matter what and regardless if they traffic in front of them is already overloading the intersection. If I was a cop with half a brain, I'd make my weekly quota of traffic tickets in that intersection at that time in a single day, easy.

    And as far as cars using Amber light to turn left (or even right)... I can see how a few of them might be ignorant, but I see a lot more of them being pissed and annoyed at pedestrians crossing the intersection on a flashing red/red light and thus backing up all the turning cars, so instead of having to wait for 2 more sets of lights to change before they even stand a chance of turning they run through "arguable" Red light. Can't blame them much though...

  9. I always thought "fault" was a bad word to use in terms of determining liability for insurance purposes. Thank you for clarifying, Vixen. There is one situation where a driver can be 25% or 75% at fault. That is rule 10(5), when A and B are traveling in the same direction, and A turns left into the path of B at an intersection while B is attempting to overtake A - A is 25% at fault and B is 75% at fault. But those rules only apply if neither driver is charged with an offense, and I can't imagine that collision happening without one of the drivers being charged. Like Vixen said, hard to explain without a diagram. Important to note that being "at fault" for insurance purposes means something very different from being legally at fault.

    Great post Tim!

  10. Sorry my comment was poorly worded. I mean that if any warnings are to be given out, it should only be to the newest of drivers. (At the officer's discretion)

  11. What I really think the problem is in Toronto is that the damned amber lights are too long. Drive outside of the city, and you'll see amber lights with 1 & 2 second timings. In Toronto, motorists are given plenty of opportunity with ridiculous amber timings of 4 and sometimes even 5 seconds. The extra time gives motorists more time to stop, but of course that almost never happens, the T.O. mentality is that it gives them more time to get through the intersection before it turns red. On 80km/h highways in Ontario, it is good to have 4 seconds or more amber lights, as with higher speeds, it takes longer to stop safely. In the City of Toronto this is not needed. As well the length of time between red to green changes(pauses) for perpendicular is too long as well. I remember in Brantford, Ontario when i was a kid the change was instantaneous. Yes, Instantaneous, there was no delay. Believe it or not, this reduced accidents.

    On another note, I keep hearing the city of Toronto complaining about how they have no money. With the amount of traffic infractions that I witness as both a driver and pedestrian every day, I can't understand why police are not out there in force AT ALL TIMES, making money for the city. Traffic violations in Toronto are a goldmine for the city and yet the roads are not enforced at all.