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Are Flashing Red Traffic Lights Dangerous?



Flashing traffic lights have traditionally been found in smaller municipalities that see a large reduction in traffic in the early-morning hours. The light pattern is changed to a flashing yellow light on the main street and a flashing red light on the secondary street. The problem is that not everyone understands what these signals mean anymore. Here is the answer: A flashing red is to be treated the same as a stop sign, while a flashing yellow means to proceed with caution because traffic could be entering the intersection momentarily.

Another Interpretation of the Flashing Red Signal

Unfortunately, another interpretation of the flashing red signal could be common among motorists not familiar with this signal: that a flashing red means a four-way stop for all traffic. Using this interpretation, a driver would see a flashing red signal, stop and then proceed into the intersection even though oncoming traffic could be approaching. The driver would assume that since it is a four-way stop, the oncoming traffic would have to stop for the light as well. The driver of the oncoming vehicle, seeing the flashing yellow light, concludes that he or she has the right of way and keeps coming. An intersectional collision results.

Consider the case of a Cedar Rapids, Iowa, motorcycle driver traveling through a flashing yellow light when he struck a vehicle that pulled out from a flashing red light into his path. Skull fractures, multiple leg fractures and a broken nose were the result. A similar accident occurred in the same town recently at a different flashing light signal. Reportedly one of the drivers admitted that she did not realize that opposing traffic did not also have a red signal.

Engineers debate the safety and efficiency aspects of the flashing traffic signals. More modern signals use sensors to detect when a vehicle is waiting and trigger a signal change. Other engineers dislike changing traffic signal patterns based on the time of day. The concern is that drivers accustomed to signal patterns during the day will assume that they still are in effect at other times.

Cedar Rapids may be updating some of its flashing traffic signals to timed signals in the future. In the meantime, if you encounter a flashing red signal, remember it is a stop sign, not a four-way stop sign.

Source: Newton Daily News