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Traffic Light Rules in the UK

By: Simon McBride - Updated: 15 Sep 2019 | comments*Discuss
Traffic Light Rules In The Uk

The traffic Light Signal is an institution in the UK and the first set was erected in 1868. It was located outside the houses of Parliament in London by J. P Knight. This first set that was seen in the UK were powered by gas. However the first set of traffic lights that relate to the more modern design that we know of now on our streets was an American invention.

The traffic light is also called a traffic signal, a stoplight, or a traffic lamp and is always placed at junctions as a traffic measure keeping the flow of traffic moving on all roads. Usually the main road will have priority over the minor roads when the lights are set-up by the authorities.

Most traffic lights today are powered by Light Emitting Diodes (LEDS) – this is because LEDs have more advantages than using incandescent lamps.

A few are noted below:

  • LEDs have much greater energy efficiency
  • LEDs have a longer life and can last years, which means they are cheaper to maintain for the local councils
  • LEDS give a brighter light

The light signals controlling traffic come in three colours and must be obeyed otherwise you could get prosecuted for “running a red light” which could include a fine, this could be up to £1,000 and penalty points on your license.

Traffic Light Colours

The most common traffic light which is used in the UK consists of three bulbs with a different coloured lense in each. In the UK, the lights commonly use a sequence of four phases:

Red means, “Stop”. When the colour red is shown on the traffic light set you must bring your vehicle to a complete halt and wait behind the stop line on the carriageway. It is compulsory to do so otherwise you are breaking the law and could face prosecution.

When the RED and AMBER lights are shown at the same time then you should bring your vehicle to a complete halt. Make sure your vehicle is behind the stop line and wait for further instructions from the traffic light system.

Next is the turn of the GREEN light and this means that you may proceed with your journey but only if the road ahead is clear. But if you are turning on to another street, whether that be right or left you should be wary that pedestrians may be crossing and that special care is needed.

When AMBER is lit up alone it also means, “Stop” at the stop line. The AMBER light is next in the sequence and when it appears you should bring your vehicle to a complete halt at the stop line. However if you break the stop line or cannot get stopped in time and in a safe manner then it is best to continue with your journey.

Finally, A GREEN ARROW may be provided in addition to the full green signal and notifies the drivers to move to the left or to the right. If the way is clear then you may go but only in the direction shown by the arrow.

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I was recently at a crossroads controlled with traffic lights that were faulty, all sets were on red. What is the law regarding a situation like this, who has priority (if anyone) ? would you be braking the law if proceeded with all lights stuck on red ? It was an interesting situation, there was a learner driver who stayed put, while others proceeded with care.
AB - 15-Sep-19 @ 1:47 PM
Hi I was in the left hand lane of an adjoining road to a main road. The green filter light had changed to just a green light. The traffic on the right of the main road to which I was going to join were able to filter left (to the road where I was) but not for long. It was a quiet time so i stopped, but had someone been behind me, should I have taken the view, that i had the green light still, the people on my right should be only filtering left, and so not crossing me. Many thanks
Confused at the gree - 28-Aug-19 @ 3:40 PM
If there are 2 lanes and 2 separate traffic light columns, one for each lane. The left one has a green left filter the right one doesn't. If you're in the right lane, can you turn left if the filter light is green?
Ann - 1-Jul-19 @ 2:26 PM
Is it legal to place permanent traffic lights at a T junction where both are residential roads. An alternating one way system through a 2m 3t weight limit lane over a railway bridge has been introduced. As this is at a T junction a priority one way system is not possible. There is a busy rat run and the bridge is also to accommodate a cycle quiet way. Nearby residents suffer pollution from stationery traffic queues, noise and road rage.
Chris - 30-Aug-18 @ 10:59 AM
Will I get a ticket I was sat in traffic in the middle of the rd when the lights changed colour. I was blocking the rd so only option was to go.
Emz - 12-Jan-18 @ 11:14 AM
@lucky. If the light was on green, then you should be fine. Why would the left turn arrow/light have any significance if you were turning right?
TrafficSignsAndMeanings - 14-Apr-15 @ 12:51 PM
Will I get traffic ticket for turning right on a solid green light and left green arrow is not on? It happened in London and I am really worried.
Lucky - 12-Apr-15 @ 3:10 AM
Hi I just had my practical car driving test and i got failed and have been given serious fault for waiting on the traffic lights for green right turn arrow to appear and i was told at the end of test that on the full green light I can take right turn if there is no traffic on the road and do not need to wait for the right green arrow, Here i clear that i am not talking about the junctions where you can wait in the middle of junction for the road to clear and then can take right or left turn i am talking about the traffic light signal where the passage for the right turn is separate and there is a traffic light on it red, amber, full green and then under neath green arrow light. My confusion is that can we just go and take right turn and cross the main wide road on the full green light and not to wait for green arrow light. thanks
Saj - 25-Mar-15 @ 1:27 PM
sunderland council have authorised a company to set the traffic light system in the city as a means to delay traffic. is this legal.
mpy - 20-May-13 @ 1:42 PM
Please can anyone advise what the legal time frame is between an Amber light changing to Red is(is is 3 seconds/2 seconds/5 seconds?)
Tarzy - 12-Jan-12 @ 2:30 PM
On the main road approaching Beverley in East Yorkshire from the south there are recently installed traffic lights which are confusing.The lights control a right hand turn with two N bound lanes - one for straight ahead and one for the right turn. The near side traffic light post has mounted on it the standard red over orange over green arrangement and beside it a separate lamp unit displaying a green arrow pointing straight ahead. When the right turn is closed but the straight ahead is free to move we have the GREEN arrow illuminated and the RED stop showing also! Is this in accord with the latest convention?
brio - 19-Mar-11 @ 12:03 PM
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