Without a doubt, this is one of the most misunderstood Idaho road rules in the Boise area. Time and again we see Treasure Valley drivers slam on their breaks or floor it in this scenario, and both maneuvers are just dangerously wrong.   

Red is stop. Green is go. And yellow is...whatever in Idaho? 

If you're new to Boise, it may seem so, but no. In Idaho, a yellow light tells drivers to slow down in anticipation of a red light. It's not a trick or a challenge.

Our state follows what called the “permissive yellow light law,” which means drivers aren't required to stop their car when a traffic light transitions from green to yellow. If a driver is nearing or already in an intersection while the light is yellow, it's fair game to pass through the intersection.  

Idaho's yellow light law may seem a bit odd, depending on where you’re from or how much experience you have driving in other states. In Oregon, Mississippi, Virginia, New Jersey, Connecticut, Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan, drivers are supposed to stop the moment the light turns yellow unless it’s dangerous to do so.  

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.  

Even though it’s legal for Idahoans to drive through a yellow light, that doesn’t mean they should. When faced with uncertainty, lousy weather, or heavy traffic, I stop for a yellow light whenever possible.  

Because I live off State and HW 16, one of the Treasure Valley’s most dangerous and congested intersections, I’m also not one to speed up to avoid a red light. I’ve witnessed firsthand the horrors that can unfold when drivers don’t make it through that intersection and dozens of others around the valley.

Think I'm being dramatic? Take a look at the Idaho Traffic Crashes 2021 report and the Idaho Traffic Deaths 2023 report from IDT.

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Is Idaho's yellow light law a dangerous traffic management strategy?

Not necessarily. I guess it boils down to driving experience and situational awareness. And unfortunately, those two things can vary significantly from one driver to the next.

As a rule, if I’m following Idaho’s permissive yellow light law, I drive like I’ve got a fancy cake in the car: hyper-aware of my surroundings and terrified I’ll smudge the icing. It's been 10 years since I moved to the Treasure Valley, and my cake rule hasn't failed me yet. 

What do you think of Idaho's yellow light law? Do you use it? Love it? Hate it? Email your opinion to ryan.valenzuela@townsquaremedia.com. 

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