Flashing green lights and what they mean

flashing greenPop Quiz!

Red means stop, yellow means proceed with caution and green means go.

But what does flashing green mean?

Someone recently asked us if we could clarify this for them and here’s the answer.

A flashing green light on a traffic signal means the signal is pedestrian activated. So, when you approach a flashing green light, use caution, because the signal could be activated by a pedestrian at any time and you might have to stop and let the pedestrian to cross.

We’ve been using flashing green lights in BC since the 80s and they are usually found either mid-block in the city or at intersections on city roads and provincial highways.

This question is usually asked by people hailing from Ontario, where a flashing green light was commonly used as a protected left turn signal. Ontario has since adopted Transportation Association of Canada (TAC) standards and is slowly moving away from using the flashing green light in this way. An interesting side note: Our green ball flashes at 60 flashes per minute (a little on the slower side) whereas the Ontario flash rate was a higher (or faster) flash rate.

So, there you have it. Hopefully this answers the question and helps you understand the history of flashing green lights. Do you have any other rules of the road you are curious about? Tell TranBC or let us know in the comments below and we will try to get an answer for you.

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48 comments on “Flashing green lights and what they mean”

Leave a Reply to Doug C Cancel reply

  1. I have stopped at flashing green lights when a pedestrian was also standing at the crosswalk. No attempt was made by the pedestrian to cross so I carried on driving, confused as to why the pedestrian didn’t start to walk. This has happened to me more than once, same scenario each time. I suppose what I am supposed to do is slow right down and yet keep going also unless the light starts to flash orange or red. Seems that this is dangerous though, as no-one is clear as to what to do.

    Reply
    • If you look to your left and right you will likely see that the pedestrian is looking at a pedestrian light that is telling them not to cross. When a pedestrian or cyclist or driver or passenger presses one of the buttons that controls the lights they will (likely after a delay) change from flashing green to solid orange then solid red, then the pedestrian light will change from don’t walk to walk.

      Reply
  2. Good idea to have blinking green just before signal turns to Amber and Red.

    Reduces the chance of people jumping a red light unintentionally. Dubai and Abu Dhabi have this and I love it.

    Reply
  3. Just looking for more “enlightenment” on flashing green… Approaching any green light, flashing or not, a responsible motorist should be prepared for the light to change and be scanning the intersection for pedestrian and car cross-traffic that may not be heeding their red signal. Precisely how should a responsible motorist approach a flashing green light differently than a solid red light? Thanks for your time…

    Reply
  4. As I found out the hard way green does not mean go actually. It means “proceed if safe to do so”. If someone runs the red causing an accident you will share the blame equally.

    Reply
  5. Wow. This is quite new to me. A few comments:
    – Despite what your traffic engineers told you (your Sept 2016 comment), Ontario is far from the only province where flashing means protected left turn. Quoting a 2015 article in The Globe and Mail titled “Why B.C.’s flashing green lights don’t mean the same thing as those in Ontario”: In Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Northwest Territories and Nunavut, the driving manuals say a flashing green light means the same thing as a left-pointing arrow and a green light: it’s an advance green. Oncoming traffic is still facing a red.”
    – It’d be nice if you’d explain the acronyms you’re using. For unsuspecting readers, TAC is the Transportation Association of Canada. A link to their website (which I found) would be appreciated. A link to the standard you’re referring to (which I didn’t) would be awesome.
    – I’m a bit disappointed by the underlying tone of this post, which to me sounds like “we’re doing it right, other provinces have it wrong and should fix their stuff”. In the interest of public safety, despite the different flashing speeds, I feel like it’d be better if *all provinces* would stop using that non-standard signal, until all drivers un-learn it – which may well take a few generations. There are alternatives available for both meanings.

    Reply
    • Hi Mark. Thanks for your comments and suggestions. We thought the blog post would be useful since there is inconsistency around flashing green lights across the country.

      Agreed, we should have gone beyond the TAC acronym! I’ve added the full title and included a link to the Transportation Association of Canada website. Unfortunately, I could not find the specific standards around flashing green lights on their website.

      Reply
  6. I found this out coming from Manitoba in 1973 where flashing green was the same as for Alberta and Ontario, almost got hit. So the flashing green goes back before the 80’s

    Reply
  7. This is a very dangerous type of light.
    I am from Alberta and a flashing green means we have the right of way to on coming traffic!!
    There is no information coming into the province on the highways about this change.
    I figured it out by almost getting into an accident.
    Why not just make the light red for traffic when a pedestrian is going to cross .

    Reply
    • Thanks for your comments Judy, about what the flashing green light means in BC. I will forward your comment/question to one of our traffic engineers, for their input.

      Reply
  8. I was recently broadsided by a vehicle at a pedestrian controlled (PC) intersection by a major road driver while I was in the middle of a “lawful” and safe left-turn, after of course stopping at the Stop line for almost a minute. A witness was also doing the same turning left on the opposite direction. A Third vehicle raced through the PC intersection in the middle of our turn narrowly missed the witness but broadsided my wagon. I submitted my dashcam video proving all the right moves of mine and the witness but was ruled 100% responsible for the crash saying the Third vehicle “had the right of way”. I am applying for a C.A.R. and will fight tooth and nail pursuant to the MVA Section 127 which regulates and governs the use of a PC intersection, excerpt as follows:

    Green light

    127 (1) When a green light alone is exhibited at an intersection by a traffic control signal,

    (a) the driver of a vehicle facing the green light

    (i) may cause the vehicle to proceed straight through the intersection, or to turn left or right, subject to a sign or signal prohibiting a left or right turn, or both, or designating the turning movement permitted,

    (ii) must yield the right of way to pedestrians lawfully in the intersection or in an adjacent crosswalk at the time the green light is exhibited, and

    (iii) must yield the right of way to vehicles lawfully in the intersection at the time the green light became exhibited, and

    (b) a pedestrian facing the green light may proceed across the roadway in a marked or unmarked crosswalk, subject to special pedestrian traffic control signals directing him or her otherwise, and has the right of way for that purpose over all vehicles.

    Reply
  9. So if I am reading this correctly, I can still turn left on a flashing green in BC, as long as I watch for pedestrians? I am from Ontario, traveling to BC, so I would appreciate the clarification.

    Reply
    • So long as you realize that opposing vehicular traffic also has a green flashing light and that they (and you) are allowed to proceed straight through, turn right, or turn left. Pedestrians that are facing the flashing green light can also cross in the direction of the light if there is no pedestrian light or sign that says otherwise. Most (all?) intersections only have two (opposing) flashing green lights, cross vehiclular traffic has stop signs and the cross pedestrian traffic has don’t walk lights that will change to walk after they (or a driver/passenger, or a cyclist) press a button that changes the flashing green lights to solid amber then solid red.

      Reply
  10. I have heard that Hedy Lamarr was the original inventor of the pedestrian crossing signal (those kind in the above discussion). The one she designed used that very same blinking green light to indicate that the traffic signal was not an ordinary or standard four-way signal, but rather one that was strictly controlled by a person on the sidewalk who pressed a button. The only difference with her design was the fact that it blinked green on the Main Street and blinked red on the side street and then when a pedestrian would activate the traffic signal it would change to solid red on the Main Street adn solid green on the side street, thus eliminating the need for any stop sign to be used. (The flashing red indicated the same thing as a stop sign.) That system should be employed in British Columbia and the Yukon.

    Reply
  11. Everywhere else in the country and in most places in the US a flashing green is an advanced green – i.e. it means that you have the right of way to turn left. Although most flashing lights have been replaced by green arrows, anyone over the age of 30 will have grown up with this system and it’s still in the handbook for most provinces (eg: http://www.mto.gov.on.ca/english/dandv/driver/handbook/section3.2.5.shtml). I’m new to BC and had a near miss because of this – I can’t imagine how many accidents this must cause. I can’t fathom the idiocy of the person that came up with this and the irresponsibility of the BC government in employing it.

    Reply
    • Hi Andy,

      Thanks for your comment and for connecting with us here. We spoke with our traffic engineers about your comment and they confirmed that only the Province of Ontario uses the flashing green in this way and they are actively phasing it out.

      Reply
      • I am surprised to read that your traffic engineers believe that it’s only Ontario that uses the “advance green.” Here is the quote from the current edition of the Alberta “Driver’s Guide”:

        FLASHING GREEN LIGHT:
        Drivers facing a flashing green traffic control light are permitted to go through, turn left or turn right without stopping. Opposing traffic will be facing a red light; however a driver must still yield to pedestrians or other vehicles lawfully in the intersection.

        Further, in May of last year, an article on this subject in the Globe and Mail reported that “In Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Northwest Territories and Nunavut, the driving manuals say a flashing green light means the same thing as a left-pointing arrow and a green light: it’s an advance green. Oncoming traffic is still facing a red. You may turn left, go straight ahead or turn right.”

        It is rather frightening that BC traffic engineers are so so poorly informed on what the standard is in the rest of the country.

        Reply
        • Hello Doug,

          We shared your concern with our traffic engineers, and they were wondering if you were referring to flashing green lights used as an advance left or just a flashing green light? Flashing green lights that flash like ours, and those used as left turn signals in Ontario, flash at different rates. As such, this blog is actually less about flashing green lights, and more about flashing green lights, how they are applied/utilized, what are the flash rates they run at, and what they are being used for in the field.

          If you read the Canadian MUTCD, which many jurisdictions use in Canada, there is no mention of flashing green lights. While some things written in law remain, how jurisdictions actually operate can be different – as technology and the cost to implement technology changes. Therefore, how jurisdictions currently operate signals, may be different than what is written into law.

          We hope that this helps answer your question. Let us know if you have any other concerns.

          Reply
  12. More info on flashing green intersections.

    One of the first things you learn is that you must stop at a stop sign. End of discussion.
    If the flashing green intersection is clear you may proceed once you have stopped. If the Flashing green intersection is red you may proceed once you have stopped.

    Pedestrians always have the right of way. It is up to the courts to determine who is at fault.

    If the cross signal is red and you are at the stop sign the pedestrian has the right to cross in front of you. The red stop light is for motor vehicles only. This is the confusion. Pedestrians should only refer to the walk and don’t walk signals. You will notice there aren’t any pedestrian signals with the traffic signal as the cross street has a stop sign therefore giving the pedestrians the right of way in front of you. Motor vehicles must come to a complete stop at the stop sign regardless if the cross traffic signal is red or flashing green. I see many motorist who look at the walk and don’t walk signals as a reference for them to proceed without stopping at the stop sign. Those signals are for pedestrians only. If you do not stop at the stop sign you can be ticketed for not stopping at the stop sign. There is no clear explanation in the BC Motor Vehicle Act about these intersections however red lights, flashing green lights, stop signs, walk and don’t walk signals are. A stop sign and a red light at an intersection mean the same thing. Stop. The stop sign does not become non existent if the cross traffic signal is red. That would be ridiculous and you would surely loose your case in court.

    Reply
      • Is Bob’s comment great? He is very wrong when he writes “Pedestrians always have the right of way. It is up to the courts to determine who is at fault. If the cross signal is red and you are at the stop sign the pedestrian has the right to cross in front of you. The red stop light is for motor vehicles only. This is the confusion. Pedestrians should only refer to the walk and don’t walk signals. You will notice there aren’t any pedestrian signals with the traffic signal as the cross street has a stop sign therefore giving the pedestrians the right of way in front of you.”

        The BC MVA includes

        “Red light

        129….

        (4) When a red light alone is exhibited at an intersection by a traffic control signal,

        (a) a pedestrian facing the red light must not enter the roadway unless instructed that he or she may do so by a pedestrian traffic control signal,” http://www.bclaws.ca/civix/document/id/complete/statreg/96318_05#section129

        Reply
    • I heartily concur with Bob and the others who have observed that nobody is stopping for the stop signs on cross streets where there is a flashing green for the arterial street. I have been a driving instructor for 20 years and I witness these infractions so many times/day that I could retire a wealthy man if I had a nickel for each one.
      I have had both myself and my students get honked at for stopping. Sometimes it is all I can do to hold my temper when somebody honks or yells about my or my student stopping. Stop signs are a sore point with me as my late former boss (and mentor in this business) was killed 18 years ago by someone running a stop sign (luckily his student’s injuries were very minor).
      I would estimate–conservatively–that 99 out of 100 people blow the stop sign in a flashing green situation. I see it many times per day, whether at work or not. I live in Kitsilano near the busiest part of the 4th Ave. commercial district. There is lots of pedestrian traffic, particularly crossing at 4th & Yew. I have seen many close calls there.
      One thing I know, only via observation, not through an ICBC pamphlet, is that when the pedestrian signal changes from “walk” to the flashing red hand, that the hand will go solid for two or three seconds (in effect like an amber light) before the red changes back to flashing green. Virtually no one knows this, consequently it’s very common for drivers to blow through the stop sign into the intersection, just as the arterial traffic is about to move. I have seen many, many very close calls in this situation.
      I know of at least one fatal crash which happened at the intersection of 37th & Granville, it was several years ago, before the intersection was altered so cars could no longer cross east-west on 37th Ave, in favor of bicycles. My surmise is that the car crossing busy Granville rushed in, just as the light turned green and was likely T-boned by a car coming fast down the curb lane.
      Clearly something needs to be done, given that the urban myth that the stop sign at such intersections is invalidated by the light is what the majority of drivers believe to be true. I think what a few others proposed here about having a flashing red instead of a stop sign for the side streets is likely a better idea than the status quo…

      Reply
  13. I understand the flashing green light, but what drives me crazy (unintended pun) is the stop sign on the side street! Everyone runs the stop sign when the crosswalk light is red. I don’t like running the stop sign, which I have to do to avoid getting rear ended by the person behind me. And if I cross as a pedestrian in front of the stop sign when the crosswalk light is red, people scold me for j-walking! Even stranger, when I ask people about the stop sign, I always get the same answer: “there is no stop sign.” Then when I point to the sign, they look confused and shrug their shoulders. I really wish someone would clear this up.

    Reply
      • Hello – Thank you for reading my post. I find this happens with all the flashing green intersections in Vancouver. I live in Point Grey, so the ones closest to me are along the shopping districts on 10th Ave, 4th Ave, Broadway, and Cambie.

        To be more specific, what happens is people treat the light as if it was a four way traffic light, so that when it turns red for the main road, everyone acts as though now it is green for the side road, and so the drivers ignore the stop sign. Likewise, the pedestrians treat it as a four way pedestrian light, so that when it is the green walk sign for the main road, they act as though it is now a red don’t walk light for the side road, again ignoring the stop sign. Then, when it is green for the main road, everyone acts as though the stop sign has reappeared.

        By the way, the best way to fix this would be to install four way lights that are flashing green for the main road and flashing red for the side road (indicating a stop sign). Then when someone presses the button, the light would turn solid red for the main road and solid green for the side road. Sometimes you have to make the rules match people’s behavior rather than trying to force people to behave!

        Reply
        • Hello David,

          Thanks for connecting back with us and sharing your insight. We will share your suggestion back with our traffic engineering department.

          Reply
    • Pedestrians are not allowed to cross in front of the stop sign if they are facing a red traffic light (that was flashing green) unless they also have a “walk” pedestrian light. I wrote to the City of Vancouver about this and they confirmed that is the case. The BC Motor Vehicle Act includes:

      “Red light

      129….

      (4) When a red light alone is exhibited at an intersection by a traffic control signal,

      (a) a pedestrian facing the red light must not enter the roadway unless instructed that he or she may do so by a pedestrian traffic control signal,” http://www.bclaws.ca/civix/document/id/complete/statreg/96318_05#section129

      Reply
  14. I checked out the ICBC booklet chapter 3 and 4. The information is vague. Check the motor vehicle act of BC. That is the law and nothing else matters.

    Reply
  15. You mention the flashing green light at intersections and mid block. You fail to mention what pedestrians rules are. When crossing with the signal and it turns red, some pedestrians think they must stop and not cross until the light turns green again. Not so. The cross traffic has a stop sign. Even though there is a red light for cross street motor vehicles pedestrians have the right of way to cross the street as the red light is for motor vehicles not pedestrians. Regardless of a red light the cross traffic must come to a complete stop at the stop sign and then proceed through the intersection. I always see vehicles speeding through the intersection without stopping for the stop sign because they are looking at the walk and don’t walk signals. Failure to stop at a stop sign is against the motor vehicle act.
    Flashing green lights not located at an intersection which are located mid block are pedestrian crosswalks and as such a motor vehicle can drive through it once they come to a complete stop, yield the right of way to any pedestrians in the crosswalk and then proceed through the red light if their are no pedestrians in the crosswalk. Motor vehicles are not allowed to go through an intersection controlled by a pedestrian signal when the traffic signal turns red. All motor vehicle traffic must wait for the green signal to proceed.

    Reply
    • Bob I read this some where but talking to police man about this he said he would issue me a ticket if he find me crossing on red light even if it is clear and safe to do so. I see people waiting for green light at crossing without intersection .where can I find more information about this? Thank you.

      Reply
      • Hello Mohammed,

        Check under the BC Motor Vehicle Act. (129 Red Light) 129.1 and 129.5. 129.1 states when a Red Light is exhibited at an intersection, a motor vehicle must stop at the Red Light and only proceed until a traffic control signal instructs you to do so. 129.5 states when a Red Light is exhibited at a place other than an intersection, a motor vehicle must stop. It does not state you must only proceed when a signal instructs you. This is the difference. There are several interpretations on the web. I leave it to you to make your own conclusion. If I ever receive a ticket I will dispute it and document the results here.

        Reply
  16. It’s supposed to be one country eh? A flashing green needs to mean the same thing for everyone. So why can’t the politicians work something out so we can be consistent before someone is accidentally hurt.

    My other pet peeve is the flashing yellow pedestrian cross walks. I see people fail to stop at them when they are flashing since they are infrequent and yellow means caution and not stop. They just don’t stand out like a stop light. Ah! But if we want people to stop why not make the pedestrian crossing lights red. We are creatures of habit and we recognize patterns faster. Therefore, let’s be consistent with all lights. Red is stop for everything except for pedestrian cross walks.

    Reply