Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

True or false? You should always stop right on the line at a red light

A cyclist pedals away on the green light at the intersection at Bay St.and Bloor St. West on June 3 2013. (2013 file photo)

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

When I was learning to drive, I was taught that the first cars to stop at a light should pull up onto the stop line because it makes the light turn faster. It drives me nuts when other drivers stop a foot or two behind the line. What does the law say? Can they be fined? — Mike, Toronto

Some rules, like "Always wear a mullet," "Don't keep your tape case in plain view in your parked Corolla hatchback" and "Pull onto the stop line to make the light change faster" have an expiry date.

"A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, there was sometimes just one wire buried under the stop line, but that hasn't been the case for years and years," says Angelo DiCicco, GTA director with Young Drivers of Canada. "But now those sensors are significantly farther back — three or more car lengths back."

Story continues below advertisement

In Ontario, the law — Section 136.1 of the Highway Traffic Act (HTA) — says drivers have to stop "at" the stop line, if there is one.

"Most jurisdictions tell you to stop at the line," DiCicco says. "Which kind of means before but you shouldn't cross over it."

If police decide you're too far ahead or too far behind the line, they could charge you with disobeying a stop sign, says Ontario's Ministry of Transportation (MTO) in an email. That's a $110 fine and 3 demerits.

But, the law doesn't specify how close you should be to the line. The MTO does say "stopping on or past the stop line stop line does not trigger the traffic signal to change sooner and could put crossing pedestrians at risk."

Where to stop at a light

Here's DiCicco's advice for how to stop safely at a light:

Start stopping well before the line: Don't wait until you're nearing the line to stop, DiCicco says. You should start stopping a lot sooner so cars behind you know you're coming to a stop. It gives them time to come to a gentle stop. "You don't want to leave braking to the last minute," DiCicco says. "It could be icy or rainy or the driver behind you could be picking their noses or sipping coffee." Slowing down in advance also lets pedestrians and cyclists at the intersection know that you'll be stopping, he says.

Story continues below advertisement

Don't pull directly onto the line: If every car on a three-lane road pulled up to the line, it could makes it tough for pedestrians and cyclists to see — and avoid getting hit by -- other vehicles which might not stop in time.

"If all the cars are perfectly lined up, it's harder to see cyclists and pedestrians and it's harder for them to see you," DiCicco says. "If you're walking across a busy intersection and all the cars are lined up at the stop line and blocking the view, you might not be able to see a little Mini that's not slowing down."

Don't stop so close to the next car: "You should keep a minimum of one car length between you and the next car," DiCicco says. "The more the better — that distance allows you the visibility, time and space to manoever if you see through your rear-view mirror that the car behind you isn't stopping in time," he says.

When cars were a lot bigger 20 years ago, the advice was to stop far enough away that you could see the rear tires of the car in front of you. But with today's shorter cars, that's just too close, DiCicco says.

"If you're picking your ears and don't see them stop in time and you hit them, then there are thousands of people who hate you because you've made them all late for work," he says. "But if you're both in in the habit of slowing down earlier and leaving lots of space, then you'll stop in time to avoid the crash, you'll do the universal shrug to each other and everybody drives off in their happy direction."


Story continues below advertisement

If you have questions about driving or car maintenance, please contact our experts at

Follow us on Twitter @Globe_Drive.

Add us to your circles.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this resolved by the end of January 2018. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to