Should I Stop or Accelerate at Yellow Lights?

Dustin Fox of Justinian & Associates
Dustin Fox, Justinian & Associates

Of course, several “non-attorneys” chimed in, and it got me to thinking maybe this would be a good topic for an article regarding how the law works when it comes to yellow lights here in the surrounding Round Rock, TX, area.

Just like many people in America, I was bored one night trying to get to sleep, so I started skimming through Facebook. I belong to several different local networking and community groups, and a post from someone caught my eye. It read something along the lines of, “I received a warning from a police officer for pulling into the intersection on a yellow light and waiting for oncoming traffic before I could turn. When did this become illegal?!”

  • Is it legal for a driver to pull into an intersection to wait before turning?
  • When does someone legally run a red light?

Texas Transportation Code – Don’t Block the Box         

Don't block the box graphic for addressing yellow lights in an intersection

As many Texans have likely seen, law enforcement have started to target violations of the state’s law against stopping in an intersection, which is often referred to as “don’t block the box,” where the “box” is the intersection and adjacent crosswalks. Understandably, this is somewhat of a confusing law since some intersections include the above pictured sign, whereas many intersections do not display this warning even though the law still applied.

The state law behind this infraction can be found in §545.302(a)(3) of the Texas Transportation Code: “(a)n operator may not stop, stand, or park a vehicle… in an intersection or… on a crosswalk.” So, as an operator approaches a yellow flashing light or – more specifically to the question I encountered – a yellow flashing turn arrow, you’re legally required to stop your vehicle behind the crosswalk and wait until you can fully complete a turn through the intersection as you yield to oncoming traffic.

Why is it considered dangerous to pull out and wait in the intersection to simply wait your turn?

For one, you could impede traffic as the light turns red and prevents the other drivers from proceeding through the intersection while they have a green light. Second, you may end up in an accident personal injury attorneys call the “yellow trap scenario.” Essentially, a driver facing a yellow light will assume the opposite direction faces the same color light, and that oncoming traffic will stop. The left-turning driver is presumed to be at fault, for failure to yield.

graphic of a car in an intersection with a yellow light

Of course, a driver may rebut this presumption in certain scenarios. For example, perhaps the other driver was:

  • Speeding
  • Dangerously driving (intoxicated)
  • An act of god (In the realm of insurance, any event that occurs outside of human control and that can’t be predicted or prevented.)

With that said, it is just safer to abide by the traffic laws, and only proceed through an intersection after making a complete stop behind a crosswalk or sign, and only proceed through an intersection once it is clear to proceed all the way through your turn safely.

Yellow Light v. Red Light – Did You Run a Red Light, and are you responsible for an accident?

This is one of those strange areas of law where you’re going to get a true lawyer answer when it comes to whether you receive a ticket for running a red light, speeding, or being found responsible for a car accident – it depends!

Running a Red Light

According to the Texas Transportation Code §544.007(e), ”(a)n operator of a vehicle facing a steady yellow signal is warned by that signal that:

  • Movement authorized by a green signal is being terminated
  • A red signal is to be given

This section is also consistent with the Texas Department of Transportation website that states the arrow signals and rules showing a steady yellow arrow means prepare to stop, and a flashing yellow arrow means a left turn is allowed, but you must yield to oncoming traffic (TDoT).

What is important to know is running a yellow light is not strictly prohibited in Texas. Instead, a yellow light is just a warning that the light is about to change to red. If it is safer to proceed through a yellow light at the posted speed limit than it is to slam on your brakes, you should continue through the intersection, as there should not be a penalty for traveling into an intersection when the light is yellow.

Nevertheless, if a driver accelerates through an intersection over the posted speed limit they may a) be cited for speeding and/or b) will be deemed responsible for an accident due to unsafe driving. These types of violations can lead to demerit points on your driving record.

According to Drive Safely, moving violations are two points, and moving violations that result in an accident are three points. In addition, drivers will have to start paying surcharges if they accumulate six or more points in a three-year period.

If a driver is convicted of four moving violations in a 12-month period or seven moving violations in a 24-month period, the driver will have his or her license suspended. Furthermore, most municipal court cases fines for traffic violations carry a $237 dollar fine.

If you’ve been injured in an auto accident due to someone else running a red light for failing to yield right-of-way, contact Dustin Fox with Justinian & Associates for a free consultation to see if he can assist with your potential case.


This is not intended as legal advice from Dustin Fox or Justinian & Associates. No attorney/client relationship has been created by this blog post. I do not represent you in any capacity unless specifically agreed to in a separate writing.