Red light means stop, but not always stay

Pedestrian-controlled lights

Here's an interesting question from the DriveSmartBC inbox:

“There is a mid-block pedestrian-controlled traffic light in our neighbourhood and drivers frequently proceed through it after stopping if no one is in the crosswalk. Is this legal?”

Ask most drivers in B.C. and they will tell you that when you are facing a red traffic light, you must stop and stay stopped until the light turns green. The exception that may be raised is when you are making a permitted left or right turn and have come to a complete stop first and yielded as necessary.

Wait a minute, a left turn on red? Yes, these turns are permitted if you are turning onto a one way street.

This is the correct action to take if the traffic signal is at an intersection. Section 129(1) of the Motor Vehicle Act says a driver will stop and remain stopped until the traffic signal instructs the driver to proceed.

There are two parts to the rule—stopping and remaining stopped until instructed otherwise. Here in B.C., that instruction would be the traffic light turning green.

Section 129(5) of the MVA covers a red light at a place other than an intersection. In this special case, the driver must stop and a pedestrian may proceed across the highway.

There is only one part to this rule and that is the stop. Once you have stopped and yielded to any pedestrians as necessary, you may proceed, even though the light is still red.

This seems contrary to what we usually practice and is not mentioned in the Learn to Drive Smart or Learn to Ride Smart provincial driving manuals. Nonetheless, if done with care, this is legal and can save time and fuel by reducing the wait.

It is also safe because it is not at an intersection, so there is no vehicular cross traffic to interfere with.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

More Behind the Wheel articles

About the Author

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement experience. He has been writing his column for most of the 20 years of his service in the RCMP.

The column was 'The Beat Goes On' in Fort St. John, 'Traffic Tips' in the South Okanagan and now 'Behind the Wheel' on Vancouver Island and here on Castanet.net.

Schewe retired from the force in January of 2006, but the column has become a habit, and continues.

To comment, please email

To learn more, visit DriveSmartBC

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

Previous Stories