What Do You Do When a Traffic Light Stops Working?

Just about every motorist, cyclist, or pedestrian has experienced this at some point – the broken traffic light. It usually occurs during a storm or power outage, but sometimes they just simply stop working. When this happens at a busy and well-traveled intersection, a dead traffic signal can cause chaos. Drivers become confused, unsure of who has the right of way, and collisions skyrocket until the traffic light begins working properly again.

We’re writing about this today because this very situation is happening right outside of our Vancouver offices on West 39th Street. Our corner building is located at a busy intersection controlled by a traffic light, and a few months ago the traffic light stopped functioning. Since then, we have unfortunately witnessed car accident after car accident, as well as even more near-misses.

Eventually the city put up temporary stop signs, and on Friday we saw a company outside replacing the lights, so that’s good news. But for a while, we had temporary stop signs up, which – along with the non-functioning traffic signals – caused a lot of confusion among motorists. From where we sit, it appears that motorists tended to see the traffic signals first (whether they worked or not), and then the stop signs. This caused drivers on all sides to proceed into the intersection thinking they have the right of way, causing all sorts of collisions.

What to do at an uncontrolled intersection

The Washington State Legislature provides guidance on what to do if you pull up to an intersection with non-working traffic signals:

Except when directed to proceed by a flagger, police officer, or firefighter, the driver of a vehicle approaching an intersection controlled by a traffic control signal that is temporarily without power on all approaches or is not displaying any green, red, or yellow indication to the approach the vehicle is on, shall consider the intersection to be an all-way stop.

Watching what has been happening outside of our offices, there also appears to be some confusion about how to handle an all-way (also called four-way) stop. Washington State Trooper Johnna Batiste gives us the definitive answer:

“Washingtonians are too polite when it comes to four-way stops! We are!” She said if you arrive at a four-way stop at the same time as someone else, it’s the person to the right who goes first. Thus, the traffic flow of a four-way stop should be moving counter-clockwise. No more of the “You go! No, I’ll go. Fine, you first!” and so on.

Bottom line? Approach all intersections cautiously, no matter how familiar they may be. None of us can predict when a traffic light may malfunction or stop working, so driving defensively can save your and your passengers’ lives.

What is defensive driving?

First, defensive driving is not aggressive or reckless driving, which could net you a traffic violation (although we can help if that happens). Instead, defensive driving involves using safe driving techniques to anticipate potential dangerous situations and compensate for other drivers’ mistakes. In a nutshell, the goal of defensive driving is to avoid a car accident in the first place.

A defensive driver should be ready to respond to almost anything. Some of the most important defensive driving skills include:

  • Actively checking the vehicles around you while you drive to ensure you know what they’re doing.
  • Leaving a good “cushion” of space between you and other vehicles (i.e.; avoiding tailgating) so you have room to maneuver in the event of an emergency.
  • Signaling and communicating your own intentions to other drivers, like using your turn signals properly and turning on your lights when warranted.
  • Looking ahead as far as you are able to be aware of any potential upcoming road hazards.
  • Stay alert, awake, and take breaks if you feel tired – you cannot drive defensively if you are mentally fatigued.
  • Avoid distractions, as driving distracted is a dangerous practice in itself.

Even the best driver can end up in a car accident with a negligent motorist. If this happens to you, a personal injury attorney can provide valuable guidance on what to do next.

After an accident at an intersection

We wrote about some of the most dangerous intersections in Vancouver, WA back in 2017. Although they have probably changed by now, the causes of dangerous intersection accidents remain the same:

  • Heavy traffic
  • Multiple lanes
  • Poor visibility
  • More than two intersecting lanes
  • Unclear traffic lights and signs
  • Curved roadways
  • Inclined roadways
  • Distracted drivers

If you’re involved in an accident at an intersection and suffer serious injury and/or property damage, it’s important to consult with an experienced lawyer. An attorney can handle all the legal aspects of your claim while you take the time you need to heal from your injuries. What this means is that we can:

  • Launch an investigation into the accident, using police reports, available photo and video footage, witness statements, and our own accident reconstruction experts.
  • Communicate and negotiate with insurance companies and opposing counsel on your behalf (but we never accept any offers or settlements without your approval).
  • Work with your physicians and our network of expert resources to determine the entire scope of your injuries, and how they are affecting you now and how they will affect you in the future.
  • Determine the maximum financial compensation to which you’re entitled, including pain and suffering.

The car accident attorneys at Philbrook Law Firm are here to fight for your right to compensation when you’re injured by another driver’s negligence. We have a strong track record of success with our clients, and we want to help you, too. Get in touch with us today to tell us about your car accident claim and how we can get started working for you.

To schedule an appointment with our Vancouver, WA and Battle Ground, WA attorneys, call our offices or fill out our contact form today.