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Does A Yellow Traffic Light Mean Stop Or Go?

            I was driving to work this morning down Highway 42 and as I approached the light at the Prospect Point Shopping Center the traffic light turned yellow. I looked at the intersection to make sure that there were no cars coming through the opposite direction and then I looked in my rear view mirror to make sure that I wasn’t being tailgated by someone in a hurry to get to work. I usually stop if I can, mainly because I have seen so many intersection accidents that turn into a swearing contest. I elected to stop as there wasn’t anyone behind me. I did not want to be in a traffic accident, whether it was being t-boned by a car running a red light or someone who rear ended me because they were following too closely.


            Should I go or should I stop. What is the law in Kentucky? I guess there is no answer that covers every situation, but the Kentucky Court of Appeals recently addressed this issue in an opinion that is not to be published.  Trent v. Telco Coal Corporation, et al out of Perry Circuit Court In a nut shell, the plaintiff stopped at a traffic light that had turned yellow. A coal truck that the plaintiff had just passed hit the plaintiff in the rear. The defendant stated that he was following too close and assumed the car would go through the light. As Felix Unger said “when you assume you make an ass of u and me”. You should always expect the unexpected.


            The Kentucky Statutes requires a driver to operate their vehicle in “a careful manner, with regard for the safety and convenience of pedestrians and other vehicles on the highway”. The purpose of a yellow light only warns a motorist that the green movement is being terminated. There is no requirement to stop.


            The court determined, among other things, whether the plaintiff violated any statutory duties in stopping at the yellow light. It was noted that a driver of a car that strikes another car in thee rear is not automatically liable. The plaintiff must prove that they did something wrong.


            The jury found both drivers partially at fault. The real question for the Court of Appeals was whether the jury instructions were correct (which they were found to be), but we won’t go there because it is to far removed from my yellow light on the way to work.


            The bottom line is being careful and aware of your circumstance while driving. You may be responsible for causing an accident if you stop at a yellow light. Always do what you can to avoid an accident. This will keep you, your family and others on Kentucky roadways safer.

About the author: Mike Schafer

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