We’ve all had some experience driving with someone or witnessing someone at an traffic light in flash, who had absolutely no idea what to do. Despite this being one of the items you are meant know before taking your drivers test, the concept seems to continually prove lost on some. This article will attempt to clarify some of the confusion and help you to understand what to do when an intersection is not working properly. Essentially, there are three common scenarios. The first is when all traffic signals flash red. The second is when two signals flash red and two yellow, and the third is when there is a total blackout.

When All Lights Flash Red

When all lights at an intersection flash red it is plain and simply to be treated as a four way stop.  If you are not familiar with how a four way stop works you can follow this link to watch a video by Smart Drive Test to learn more. Basically, there are four main rules at four way stops.

  1. First to arrive, first to drive – This rule is quite self explanatory. If you arrive at the intersection first, regardless of the direction anyone else is travelling, you have the right of way. This rule does not include pedestrians. Please do not run over pedestrians. Like emergency vehicles, they always have right of way.
  2.  Right of way is right all day – If you arrive at an intersection at the same time as someone else, the person to the right goes first. If there are two drivers to your right, they both depart before you do. Always remember, right of way is given not taken.
  3.  If paths don’t cross, no time is lost – If both vehicles meet head on and both are going straight through, both can go. The same is true if you meet head on and both are turning in the same direction. If the drivers do not cross paths both can go at the same time. That is unless one of the vehicles is turning and one is going straight. In this instance straight through has the right of way.
  4. Both same way left will stay – If you meet head on and you both want to turn into same lane the person turning right has the right of way.

So why do traffic lights flash? Intersections typically flash because they detect a problem with the proper function of the system and the traffic signal cannot safely maintain normal operation. Just for the record, a flashing red or yellow does not always mean there is a problem. This method of traffic control is sometimes used to manage traffic under the “time of day” settings. For example, an intersection that sees a low volume of traffic after midnight may be set to flash to avoid cyclic phases. Typically, when lights flash red in all directions this usually means all directions of traffic have a relatively high volume.

Two Red, Two Yellow

In situations where one arterial sees a much higher volume of traffic and the intersecting street volumes are lower, the flashing yellow and flashing red lights are used respectively. The flashing yellow light operates under the same premise as the yield sign. You can proceed if it is safe to do so but you must exercise caution always prepared to stop. The flashing yellow light ensures the route with the higher volume of traffic is given priority. The intersecting road in this scenario would have a flashing red which is essentially a stop sign. Motorists in this direction must come to a full and complete stop and give right of way to those passing through the flashing yellow.

Traffic Signal Blackout

When all power has been lost at a controlled intersection, everyone must stop. This is true in all directions regardless of volume. Like the “all red flash” the “dark” intersection must be treated as a four way stop. It is especially crucial that you use extra caution when passing though intersections such as these. It can be very easy for motorists to inadvertently pass though the intersection not noticing the signal is down. To report outages such as these you can contact the City directly through 311.

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