When The Traffic Signals Are Out

Question: I was curious about the dark-traffic-light rule. Common advice seems to be to treat the intersection as a 4-way stop, but what should you do when NOBODY is stopping at all.

I watched at Quebec and National as nobody slowed or stopped. OK, it’s a three-way intersection (four-way if you add in the Science World parking lot exit).

However if somebody had actually stopped at the intersection, they would very likely been hit due to the high traffic flow coming off Pacific Blvd, cars were just zipping through the intersection. It was dark, the street lights were out also, and the intersection was dark.

Is it better to just “go with the flow”, ie: nobody was going to stop for the darkened traffic light.

Conversely, what about at a high traffic flow 4-way intersection like Quebec and east 2nd? At another power outage I watched cars proceed in ALL 4 directions continuously with very few stopping or even slowing.

There were very many close calls over the 15 minute period I watched. Eventually the police answered my call to direct traffic. In this case it definitely was not best to “go with the flow”.

I can’t believe everybody “forgot” about the traffic lights, so even those familiar with the intersection failed to take any action. What would be the safest thing to do?

First of all it is not just a suggestion to stop, it is the law:

Traffic control signals inoperative

125.1 (1) The driver of a vehicle approaching an intersection that has traffic control signals that are inoperative must stop before entering the intersection.

(2) If 2 vehicles have come to a stop at an intersection described in subsection (1) from different highways at approximately the same time, the driver of a vehicle must yield the right of way to the vehicle that is on the right of the vehicle that he or she is driving, but if one of the vehicles is already entering the intersection, the driver of the other vehicle must stop and yield the right of way to the entering vehicle while it is proceeding into or across the intersection.

No we should not do this here in beautiful British Columbia (we are not good at it).

I’m not convinced many drivers notice that the light is even out.

They may be driving on auto-pilot or just staring at all the traffic in front of them. People aren’t used to looking for un-lit lights.

This has happened to me a few times while driving in heavy traffic where none of the cars in front of me stopped, slowed down or even noticed that there was an intersection!

Yes this is scary.

However, the cars travelling behind you can not actually control what YOU do.

They may follow too closely or change lanes but only YOU can control YOUR vehicle.

My suggestion would be to set a good example! Someone’s gotta do it.  If you’re looking far ahead while driving then you can notice the lights are not working, and can slow down early and gradually enough so that you don’t get rear-ended.

If you’re travelling in a pack of speeding vehicles and you see the light at the last second and slam on the brakes, then yes you will be rear-ended.

But speeding through just because everyone else is is not safe or a good idea at least in my opinion.

If you’re the vehicle on the other street to where all the cars are speeding through, perhaps turning right would be a better option rather than trying to go straight across when clearly it’s not very safe?

Whatever you have to do in order to stay safe.. DO IT. This means there may be a big difference between the usual “4-way stop procedure” and what you do.

For example you may have to “creep” slowly into the intersection in order to ensure visibility before actually committing to the rest of your movement.

You may need to proceed much slower than you would at a 4-way stop and you will have to scan and look for traffic coming from all relevant directions like you never have before. 

This is a highly dangerous situation so I would recommend to use extreme caution. Calling the police for assistance was a smart move.

By the way when I stopped my vehicle even though the ones in front of me didn’t, guess what happened? More vehicles around the intersection also stopped and took turns rather nicely all of a sudden. Just saying there’s potential..

Carmen Cohoe

Carmen became a driving instructor in beautiful North Vancouver at the age of 22 due to some crazy people who agreed to hire her. After that, there was never a dull moment teaching many different folks from many different places how to drive using automatic and standard vehicles and a minivan.

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