Motor School With Quinn Redeker: What Does a Green Light Mean?

Motor School Green lights
Green lights look friendly but can’t always be trusted, but in this Motor School installment, riders are advised to be cautious and scan the intersection before proceeding. (Photos by Kevin Wing)

I’ll assume that most of you have quite a bit of motorcycle riding experience under your belt, and I bet you’ve logged some heavy miles and had a few near misses over the years. Given your vast experience, you’ve probably learned a few things along the way. Over the years of riding as a motor officer, I have managed to learn some habits that maybe you haven’t heard about and could benefit from.

This first one came to me via a salty old motor cop addressing a room full of other salty old motor cops, and it absolutely woke up the room. He asked, “What does a green light mean?” And while your brain, like mine, probably thought it means you have legal right-of-way to go through the intersection, this guy dropped a bomb and answered, “A green light means the bulb is working.”

Think about that for a minute: The bulb is working. That’s all it means. He went on to demand that we trust no traffic signal and remain colorblind, making damn sure to clear every intersection lane-by-lane before entering it. In the end, he made believers out of every one of us old motor cops: A light bulb has no mystical power to keep you safe. 

Motor School Green lights

From that day forward, I never went through an intersection without diligently assessing the cross-traffic during my approach. Had I not, on three separate occasions I would have been seriously injured or worse due to oblivious drivers blowing stale red lights. And if you are wondering, no, I didn’t let them off with warnings.

Related: Quinn Redeker | Ep. 64 Rider Magazine Insider Podcast

Other Motor School Intersection Tips

In addition to assessing each intersection before going into it, it’s also good practice to avoid being the first vehicle into the intersection. Think about it: How many times have you watched vehicles run the red trying to “make the light”? You don’t want to rip out there as soon as your light turns green, only to come face-to-face with Bruce The Crossfit King, hopped up on pre-workout caffeine on his way to The Box to smash some PRs. Better to slow your roll, assess, and then proceed. Let everybody else risk the wrath of Bruce.

Another habit? When approaching a green light, I speed up or slow down a little bit to pace next to vehicles headed in the same direction as me until I clear the intersection. It just takes a few seconds, and by having a nice big car or truck on my side, I have a “blocker” to protect me. Once out of the intersection, I go on about my business until the next one presents itself.

Motor School Green lights
Whenever possible, use a car or truck in the adjacent lane as a blocker when you ride through an intersection.

Although this next tip is not related to intersections, it has saved my skin more times than I can count. I worked traffic in the hilly beach town of Ventura, California, which means I made lots of stops on steep slopes. I was not interested in having my bike run away without me or roll off the kickstand during a traffic stop, so I always kept my bike in 1st gear as an improvised motorcycle emergency brake. My ritual consisted of clicking down to 1st, shutting the bike off, letting the clutch out, allowing the bike to roll forward and settle, then putting the kickstand down and stepping off into the great unknown. The settle part is key because the bike typically rolls a few inches after you let the clutch out, which can be just far enough to roll it off the stand and hit the ground. Ask me how I know this… 

Motor School Green lights
No need to be strong to rest your steed on an incline. Just put it in 1st gear, let it settle, and then drop the kickstand.

These are just a few ideas that might benefit you from time to time. For those of you who already know these things, thanks for listening politely as I preached to the choir. Most importantly, for all the elder statesmen out there who have, in one form or another, helped save my life, I leave you with this:

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” –Mark Twain

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See all of Quinn Redeker’s “Motor School” articles here.


  1. Great article! I have been riding motorcycle for quite a while and Quinn condensed some great safety tips on intersections and staying safe. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for the refresher course on intersections…..I feel like nowadays every time I go through one scratch free is a blessing! Wouldn’t it be great if all drivers had to start on a bike before driving a car? Thanks again, be safe!

  3. I was a Police Officer for 25 years, then a state licensed Driving Instructor for 14 years. When my student and I were stopped at a red light intending to turn left, and the car opposite us also had its left turn signal on, I would ask “what does that blinking light mean?” Universally, they would answer “it means they are turning left”, to which I would respond “NO! It means that their left turn signal WORKS! Beyond that you cannot be certain of anything until they actually start their turn! Do not trust turn signals! Do not trust the absence of a turn signal!”

    Also, I would ask them “how long do you think a light is yellow?”. Some would say as long as ten seconds. I would tell them that, when sitting in the instructor seat and not as the driver, I timed yellow lights many, many times with the stop watch function of my wrist watch. Three seconds is the norm. I would then tell then that, unless you are about to enter the intersection when the light turns yellow, you need to STOP! But I have seen students who are still 200 yards from the intersection when the light turns yellow, and they don’t slow down! They think that they are going to make it. Much of this is due to inexperience. But much of it is due to watching their parents drive. So parents, be careful of what you are teaching your children, because they are watching YOU! They may not remember what you say, but they WILL remember what you do.


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