Natural disaster shouldn’t create traffic disaster in Maryland

When there is a natural disaster that takes place, all of the conversation and warnings about the storm can leave out some of the most basic but important safety information. Hurricane Irene provides an example of this point.

The Baltimore Sun reports that Irene left many traffic lights throughout the state nonfunctioning. That means that motorists, therefore, don’t know when they are committing traffic violations. The confusion is dangerous, and safety advocates believe the state lawmakers should work to prevent such dangerous confusion in the future.

Some states in the U.S. have definite, clear laws regarding what drivers are supposed to do at intersections with nonfunctioning traffic lights. In many cases, the law is that every driver must stop at an intersection and treat the broken lights as though they are stop signs.

In Maryland, sources suggest that the stop sign treatment is common but not ideal in many instances. Within the state, there are extreme variations of traffic types, making having to stop at every intersection with a nonfunctioning light a needless nuisance in one case, and a safety must in another. Say, for example, a driver is in a very low-traffic, rural area. Being required to stop would seem unnecessary.

The Baltimore Sun reports that the one concrete traffic law on the books addressing nonfunctioning lights is related to entering a highway. If a light on the ramp before entering a highway isn’t working, drivers are legally required to stop before proceeding. This law was created after a fatal crash occurred in 2006, when a driver failed to stop at a nonfunctioning light, crashed into a car and killed two people.

It’s sad but true that it often takes tragedy for lawmakers to become inspired to create new traffic laws. Advocates for clarifying laws regarding nonfunctioning traffic lights think that the solution could be as simple as making it a law for all drivers to simply slow down and yield or stop when it’s the reasonable choice to do so.

What do you think? Have you noticed mayhem at intersections since the hurricane?


The Baltimore Sun: “Mixed signals about non-functioning traffic lights,” Aug. 31, 2011

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