Traffic signal rules: Traffic light rules in India

Team AckodriveJun 6, 2022

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Without traffic signals, it’s hard to imagine the smooth flow of traffic given the number of vehicles on the road. Traffic light signals are common at any busy intersection or prime location. The primary red, yellow and green traffic light rules remain universal across the globe. However, the types of signals and regulations may differ from one country to another. Read on as we discuss traffic signal rules in India.

Traffic signal rules

Traffic signal rules in India: Traffic light colours and their meanings

A traffic signal is nothing but a device that instructs the road users through traffic lights. Adhering to the traffic signal rules ensures smooth traffic flow and reduces the risk of accidents. Traffic lights are usually located at intersections or busy roads, and they make the traffic police’s job easier as they assist in controlling the flow of traffic. It would have been hard to manage the traffic without traffic lights, and the risk of accidents would also increase.

The traffic lights are easy to understand as they follow a universal colour code. There are three colours displayed at a traffic signal: red, yellow and green. Below are the basic traffic light rules.

  • The red colour indicates the motorists to stop. 

  • The yellow colour indicates the vehicles to slow down or transition before the red/green light.

  • Lastly, the green light indicates the motorists to move ahead. 

In the following sections, we explain the different traffic lights in detail.

What does a yellow traffic light mean?

A yellow traffic light means that the red light is about to be displayed. It also acts as a transition light between the green and red lights. It indicates the motorists to slow down and come to a complete halt when the red light pops up. Never ignore the yellow light and try to speed up the vehicle as it may lead to an accident as other vehicles may be entering the intersection. The yellow traffic light has different types of signals which are mentioned below.

  • Yellow arrow: When you see a yellow arrow light, you should slow down the vehicle to anticipate the red light. You can find yellow arrow lights on intersections with right or left turns. Similar to the standard yellow light signal, you should slow down and be ready to stop the vehicle when the red light comes up.

  • Flashing yellow light: If you have driven your vehicle in the wee hours or late at night when there’s less traffic, you may have seen the flashing yellow light at traffic signals. It indicates road users to slow down before crossing an intersection. You should be extra cautious when the flashing yellow lights are on and observe the traffic before crossing an intersection.

Also, read:Major causes of road accidents in India: Why do accidents occur?

What does a red traffic light mean?

A red traffic light indicates the motorists to come to a halt. Typically, red is a sign of danger or warning, and you can spot the red light very easily. Hence, red light is ideal to indicate the motorists to stop the vehicles at an intersection. Never ignore a red light at a traffic signal, as it will cause a collision with the oncoming traffic. That’s why jumping a red light is a serious traffic offence. Red traffic lights also have different types of signals. Below are more details.

  • Red arrow: A red arrow also indicates that you should stop the vehicle till the green light appears. A right or left turn at an intersection is not allowed when the red arrow lights up.

  • Flashing red light: A flashing red light indicates that you should stop the vehicle, see if there are any oncoming vehicles and then proceed. You can see flashing red traffic lights at intersections during the early hours when there is significantly less or no traffic. Apart from intersections, you can also see the flashing red light sign at railway crossings where you need to stop, see if any trains are coming and then move ahead.

What does a green traffic light mean?

A green traffic light means that the motorists can go ahead. A green light at the traffic signal brings a smile to the faces of the motorists, especially if you are heading to work or returning home after a busy day at the office. But do not blindly drive across the intersection as soon as you see the green light. Check if any vehicles are approaching and then proceed. Like yellow and red lights, a green traffic light also has different signals. Below are the details.

  • Green arrow: A green arrow light also means “Go”. You can find a green arrow light at an intersection with a right or left turn. When you see the green arrow, you are free to turn left or right at an intersection. 

Types of traffic signals

Similar to the different types of traffic lights, India has different types of traffic signals. In this section, let’s look at the types of traffic signals you find on Indian roads.

1. Traffic control signal

It is one of the most common types of traffic signals you see on the roads. The traffic signal works on light signals, which include three colours: red, yellow and green. As mentioned earlier, red indicates the vehicles to stop, yellow indicates the vehicles to slow down and get ready to stop, and the green light indicates the vehicles to go ahead. Based on the working mechanism, traffic control signals are of three types. Below are more details on the same.

  • Fixed time signal: This type of signal repeats the cycle of red, yellow and green lights based on a preset timing. The timing is determined and fixed based on the traffic on that particular road. It is one of the simplest types of traffic signals which operates automatically without any human intervention.

  • Traffic actuated signal: In this type of traffic signal, one can change the timing of the traffic light cycle based on the intensity of the traffic. For instance, the green light phase extends to clear the vehicles at the intersection. Similarly, the timing can be changed for other lights depending on the situation.

  • Manually operated signal: As the name suggests, it is a human-operated traffic signal. The traffic police observe the traffic movement and adjust the timing of the red, yellow and green lights. For instance, the timing may be different at peak hours (morning and evening) compared to other times of the day. This type of signal requires continuous attention from the traffic police to adjust the timing as per the traffic flow.

2. Pedestrian signal

While the traffic control signal controls the movement of vehicular traffic, a pedestrian signal guides the pedestrians who cross the intersection. Both traffic control and pedestrian signals work in conjunction to ensure a smooth traffic flow. During the red light phase, the pedestrian signal indicates the pedestrians to cross the road safely.

3. Special signal/flashing signal

This type of signal warns the oncoming traffic to approach the intersection with caution. If you see a flashing red light at a signal, it means that you must stop and then cross the intersection. In case of flashing yellow light, it means that you need to approach the intersection slowly and then proceed.

Also, read:Type of Road Traffic Signs and Their Relevance

Importance of traffic lights and traffic signals

Traffic signals and traffic lights form the backbone of road safety. Without them, it is impossible to imagine a smooth flow of traffic. Pedestrian safety is also one of the most important factors in controlling the flow of traffic. And traffic signals play an essential role in terms of pedestrian safety. Below are some points that highlight the importance of traffic signals in India.

  • Ensures a safe traffic flow: Traffic signals guarantee a smooth movement of vehicles even during peak hours. From a simple warning sign to a complex traffic signal, they ensure that the motorists, cyclists and pedestrians are safe on the road. Without a traffic signal, the traffic would be chaotic and unsafe.

  • Minimises the risk of accidents at intersections: Traffic signals play an essential role in reducing the risk of accidents at busy intersections. The traffic lights indicate the motorists to or move ahead at an intersection. It prevents collision of vehicles, vehicle-pedestrian collisions and vehicle-cyclist collisions.

  • Traffic lights ease the movement of pedestrians: Pedestrians find it extremely difficult to cross a busy intersection. But thanks to traffic signals, they get a window where they can safely cross the roads. The traffic lights guide the pedestrians to cross the road.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Below are some commonly asked questions and their answers regarding traffic signal rules in India and traffic light meaning.

Can I drive through a yellow light signal?


No, you cannot drive through if the signal is yellow as it indicates to you to slow down the vehicle and get ready to stop when the light turns red. The yellow light signal warns the motorists to slow down in anticipation of the red light.

Are hand signals necessary while driving a car in India?


Yes, it's essential to know the basic hand signals when driving a car in India. It helps to warn other road users before you make a manoeuvre. However, you should use hand gestures only when your car's turn indicators/brake lights are not working correctly.

Who controls the traffic lights in a traffic signal?


A traffic signal can be completely automated or manually operated by traffic police, depending on the type of signal. A fixed timing signal automatically cycles through lights, while a manual signal requires human intervention to cycle through different light phases.

What should I do if the red or yellow light flashes at a traffic signal?


If you notice a flashing yellow light, you need to slow down your vehicle, observe the traffic movement, and proceed with caution. If there’s a flashing red light, stop the vehicle, observe the oncoming vehicles, and move ahead.

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