How To Deal With Traffic Lights

Last Updated: 10/04/2021

Traffic lights are commonplace on British roads and are also crucial to maintaining safety on busy junctions.

While following the lights is obviously a huge part of driving safely around these junctions, your general awareness is also vital.

Traffic lights were introduced to the UK all the way back in 1868.

In fact, they were the first traffic lights in the world and were installed in London at the Houses of Parliament.

Since then, lights have been rolled out across the world and are utilised in just about every country that has road traffic.

While used commonly on junctions so that traffic flow can be managed, and accidents avoided, they are also used on pedestrian crossing and on a temporary basis with some roadworks.

Therefore, knowing how to drive at traffic lights and what you should be looking for is crucial.

Before getting in to the detail of driving at traffic lights, it’s first important to establish what exactly each light, or light combination, means on the traffic light.

Knowing this is a key part of learning to drive, and your examiner may ask you about it.


A single red light means stop behind the white line.

Red & Amber:

This combination of lights still means stop, although it is a warning that the lights are about to turn green.

That said, you should remain stationery.


If a single amber light is lit, this indicates that the lights will turn to red next.

You should stop behind the white line on am amber light.

If you are already over the line, you may proceed.

If you are very close to the line and stopping this late may cause an accident, you’re also okay to proceed.


Proceed if the road is clear.

Green Arrow:

A green arrow may be lit to indicate that traffic turning in a specific direction can proceed, if clear, before the main green light has been lit.

If the green arrow is lit, you may proceed in that direction only, even if other lights are red or amber.

What You Will Learn

Our guide on how to deal with traffic lights is going to take you through everything you need to know about driving with traffic lights.

We will discuss filters, crossings and also identify exactly what each light, or light combination, means.

As ever, we will split this up in to our easy-to-follow sections.

They are as follows:

  • Step-By-Step Guide
  • Video Demonstration
  • Hints & Tips
  • Useful Information
  • Final Thoughts
  • Further Resources

Step-By-Step Guide

When approaching traffic lights, it could be one of any number of different scenarios that you find yourself in.

We have provided a step-by-step guide below for three of those potential situations.

Traffic Junctions With No Filter:

  • If the traffic lights are red or amber, bring your car to a stop before the white line.
  • If you are behind other vehicles, it’s wise to always leave yourself a little extra room between yourself and the vehicle in front.
  • Once the light turns to green, you may move forward again if it is safe and clear to do so.
  • If you’re turning right, you should move forward slowly in to the middle of the junction or as specific markings stipulate.
  • Once the flow of traffic from other directions have stopped and it is safe to do so, you may complete the turn.

Junctions With A Filter:

  • If the traffic lights are red or amber, bring your car to a stop before the white line in the right land (if turning right on a filter).
  • If you are behind other vehicles, it’s wise to always leave yourself a little extra room between yourself and the vehicle in front.
  • Once the right arrow turns green, you are permitted to begin moving through the lights, even if the main set of traffic lights are still red and/or amber.
  • If it is clear to do so, complete the turn.

Pelican Crossings:

A pelican crossing has a flashing amber phase in the traffic light signals which differentiates it from other crossings. Red means stop, green means you can proceed if safe to do so.

The flashing amber, however, means that pedestrians may still cross the road or be crossing the road. If the lights are flashing amber and the crossing is clear, you may proceed.

Puffin Crossings:

These crossings usually have sensors above the lights and will be triggered by the pedestrian pressing a button on a yellow box to cross.

The sensors will look for a light flow of traffic before activating the crossing.

There is no flashing amber in this case.

Video Demonstration

Hints & Tips

There are so many variations in the types of traffic light-controlled situation you may come across, that it’s going to need you to be on your guard and ready to think whenever you’re out driving.

We have two specific tips that you should be on the look out for.

Slow-Moving Traffic:

In the UK, it is technically not illegal to block a traffic light-controlled junction, unless there are specific keep clear markings or a yellow box, however, if you approach a junction with slow traffic on, you should always try to leave it clear.

This may mean that you do not proceed in to the junction even on a green light.

Traffic Light Cameras:

Many traffic lights in the UK now have a traffic light camera attached or nearby.

If you run a red light, it’s obviously dangerous to both yourself, other road users and pedestrians.

It’s also illegal.

If you are snapped by a camera, or observed doing so by the police, you can expect a £60 fine and three points on your license.

If you run a red light on your driving test, it’s going to be an instant fail.

Don’t take the chance under any circumstance.

Useful Information

One thing you should consider while learning to drive is what should happen if you approach a traffic light-controlled junction but encounter a traffic light failure, for example, the lights are not working and you have traffic from four directions looking to move across the junction?

In instances such as this, the junction must be treated as ‘unmarked’.

By that, we mean that nobody has right of way or priority.

Instead, you should stop completely and proceed slowly and with caution.

Final Thoughts

It’s well worth taking the time to familiarise yourself, in detail, with all of the different types of crossings and junctions which may have traffic lights on them.

While the instructions for what to do on each colour of light will be the same as we have covered in our introduction, it’s often helpful for motorists to know how specific junctions or crossings work.

There are subtle differences.

Further Resources