Lt. Tim Grigsby: What does a yellow light mean?

By Lt. Tim Grigsby - Guest Columnist

I used to love watching the sitcom “Taxi.” Most people under the age of 40 will probably not recognize that show, but if you do, you will remember the all-star cast of colorful characters.

One episode I remember was when Jim, played by Christopher Lloyd (most know him as Doc Brown from “Back to the Future”), was taking his driver’s exam. He leans over to a friend and asks, “What does a yellow light mean?” His friend replies, “Slow down.” In typical Jim fashion, he asks the same question, but in a really long, slow and drawn out fashion.

I posed this same question to a group of driver’s education students back in 2010. I asked the group “can anyone of you tell me what a yellow light means?” One excited student immediately threw his hand in the air. Eager to hear his answer, I called on him. He emphatically said, “According to what my mom does, it means floor it and get through the intersection before the light turns red!!”

While these examples are amusing and fun to remember, it caused me to begin to ponder what traffic control devices mean to the modern-day driver.

Traffic control devices are defined as markers, signs or signal devices used to guide, inform and control traffic. These items work in harmony with Ohio’s traffic laws, and with one another to provide the safest form of mass vehicular travel for millions of Ohioans on a daily basis. This led me to begin to wonder why crashes still happen on a regular basis despite Ohio having some of the best-engineered roads in the country.

I decided to look into why drivers run red lights and stop signs. One survey I found said 56% of drivers admit to running a red light due to being in a hurry. They admit to knowing it is wrong but added slowing for the yellow and red light would have added minutes to their drive and would make them late.

Another article highlighted watching intersections controlled by stop signs. The author watched several intersections and only counted the cars who were bound to stop by the sign when there were no other vehicles or pedestrians which would cause them to stop. The author stated he did not witness one vehicle come to a complete stop as required by law. They slowed but did not stop.

This is risky behavior to say the least. Signs, signals, lane lines and barriers are, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation, strategically placed to ensure the best chance of safely traversing a particular roadway. In my many years of investigating crashes, drivers who fail to yield have always stated they thought the road was clear and didn’t see the other vehicle.

Stop signs mean stop, and yield signs means yield. The roadway lines are unspoken directions dictating how you should maneuver your vehicle. Perhaps allowing five extra minutes for your morning drive means you can stop when the light turns yellow.

Oh yeah, the yellow light. It means the green light movement for that lane of travel is over, and a red light is pending, so take caution!

At the end of the day, if each driver is cautious, attentive and obeys the traffic control devices set in place to dictate orderly movement, you stand a much better chance of not being involved in a crash. Instead of being part of the problem, you become part of the solution.

By Lt. Tim Grigsby

Guest Columnist

Lt. Tim Grigsby is the commander of the Lima Post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol. Reach him via email at

Lt. Tim Grigsby is the commander of the Lima Post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol. Reach him via email at

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