What Does a Flashing Red Light Mean?

Last Updated on May 11, 2022 by Fair Punishment Team

If you see a flashing red light when approaching an intersection then you must come to a complete stop. If you fail to do so, this can result in your being issued with a traffic violation. Therefore, a flashing red light is much the same as a solid red light in that regard.

However, because it is flashing, you are permitted to drive through the intersection once the coast is most definitely clear instead of waiting extra time for the light to turn green again. In that way, a flashing red light operates more like a stop sign as opposed to a stop light.

Nonetheless, you should always ensure that you stop entirely and yield any necessary right of way to other vehicles who have arrived before you prior to speeding off again when you believe that the road is clear to do so.

There are also red traffic lights that contain a green arrow and this indicates whether you need to make a left or right turn. Whenever you see a green arrow appear, you should turn in that specific direction and this kind of red light will also indicate that you need to be in the correct lane in order to make this turn.

You will also need to give the right of way to any other vehicles and pedestrians in the intersection prior to driving off. In contrast, a solid red arrow means that you are required to stop and are not permitted to make a turn in the indicated direction until the signal (or arrow) turns green.


At a Railroad Crossing

A flashing red light at a railroad crossing is a whole different ball game and you will need to make a complete stop. You should only drive across once you are sure that no train is coming and in most instances, it is best to wait until the light has stopped flashing entirely prior to making your move.

Luckily, at most railroad crossings, an automatic gate will come down when the lights are flashing to stop you from crossing when there is an oncoming train. Of course, the gate lifts again once the train has sped through and it is safe to cross again.

At a Crosswalk

A flashing red light at a crosswalk means that you need to make a complete stop, with no exceptions. Once you are certain that there are no pedestrians that are crossing or about to cross then you can drive onwards.

Pros and Cons

Traffic signals have many benefits but they can also be an irritation. They help to provide necessary control at busy intersections so that traffic is able to move in an organised manner. This inherently improves the safety and proficiency of both pedestrian and vehicle traffic. In spite of these obvious benefits, there are some drawbacks.

They can actually increase the probability of certain types of accidents, usually rear-end collisions as some drivers may come to a sudden stop where others were expecting them to drive onwards. Unjustified signals also result in a heavy overload of traffic which increases this likelihood of drivers disobeying signals and expecting other drivers to do the same.

Traffic signals are undoubtedly vital to helping pedestrians and vehicles travel safely and are implemented for a reason. They increase the order and efficiency of traffic which inherently reduces the number of accidents and fatalities on the road.

They also provide clear and concise guidelines with regards to entering intersections and whilst they are necessary in order to maintain law and order, they also pose a disadvantage when it comes to rear-end accidents as mentioned. However, they do reduce other specific types of car accidents including broadside collisions.

Rear-end collisions, in contrast, tend to occur more frequently whenever a driver has to abruptly stop at a yellow or red light. This causes any distracted drivers behind the vehicle to drive into the rear of this car and although these aren’t usually as serious as broadside accidents, they can cause serious whiplash. However, it is important to note that traffic engineers will always do a risk-benefit analysis to determine whether they should install a traffic light at an insertion or not.

This involved engineers weighing up the advantages and disadvantages of putting a particular traffic signal in place. In most instances, it is worth installing a single despite any increase in rear-end collisions as these are usually less severe.


To conclude, a flashing red light can mean a variety of things depending on the situation that you are in. If you are approaching an intersection, then you should come to a complete stop and only drive on once you are certain that the coast is clear.

If you see a flashing red light with a green arrow at an intersection, then you should only drive in the direction that the arrow is pointing in and ensure that you are in the correct lane in order to do so. If you see a flashing light at a train or a pedestrian crossing, then you should definitely come to a complete stop until the train or the pedestrians have passed.

The vast majority of train crossings will have a bridge that also prevents you from driving onwards once the lights have been triggered, however this is not always the case and so it is best to exercise caution. The same level of attentive caution should be applied to pedestrian crossings as you may be overly eager to drive onwards and fail to see a pedestrian that is about to cross or who is crossing from a position that may not be distinctly visible to you.

Above all, these traffic signals are purposeful in that they keep everyone safe, yourself included but make sure that you are well acquainted with the rules prior to driving hastily as you may occur an unwanted violation and place yourself and others at risk.