Traffic lights could be switched off at night or left flashing on amber if government proposals get the go ahead.
Portsmouth council has applied to the Department for Transport to carry out the tests, to see whether unnecessary delays at red lights are reduced.
Senior traffic systems engineer at Portsmouth council, Barry Rawlings, said: "It can be extremely frustrating if you are on the road at 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning and forced to stop at a red light when no other cars are around."
The DfT is currently conducting its own research on the potential safety risks of the plan, and legislation will have to be amended even before the trial can go ahead on quiet roads.
Transport minister Norman Baker said: "The Department is currently investigating new options for the use of traffic signals when traffic volumes are low. However, in the interests of safety, it is important to ensure that any signalling technique provides a consistent and unambiguous message to all road users."
Flashing amber lights at night are a regular sight on the continent, but would mean a culture shift for British drivers.
"The idea that drunks and young drivers are going to get to the flashing lights after midnight and say 'after you' is nonsense."