MSP: Treat non-working traffic lights as a four-way “yield,” not “stop”

Posted at 3:30 PM, Mar 10, 2017

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Wednesday's windstorm did more than just blow down tall trees and power lines.

It caused a widespread power outage that affected traffic signals too. So, most drivers have been coming to a complete stop when they see an inoperable light. But F/Lt. Dale Hinz with Michigan State Police said that's not exactly the right thing to do.

"To simplify things, out of power traffic lights become [...] not necessarily a four-way stop but a four-way yield," said F/Lt. Hinz. "And then those yielding rules apply."

Shannon Banner, the manager of the Public Affairs Section in Lansing, said when a traffic signal isn't working, the intersection becomes "an uncontrolled intersection and reverts back to the right-of-way rules of the Michigan Vehicle Code."

Rules like a driver that's stops at the intersection has to give the right-of-way to any vehicles already there. If two vehicles approach at the same time, then the right-of-way is given to the driver on the right.

"If it's a major roadway then technically the major roadway does have the right of way," said F/Lt Hinz. "However once again I would approach with extreme caution."

People often ask police about putting up stops signs when the lights go out, he said. But that would only confuse drivers even more.

"You have a traffic signal that might be showing green but you have a stop sign in the middle of that intersection," said F/Lt. Hinz. "So for law enforcement or for public works or for county roads or MDOT to pull all of those signs as soon as the light reactivates, it’s impossible to do."

F/Lt. Hinz advises drivers to yield and stop if necessary, even if it causes a little bumper-to-bumper traffic.

"Keep it simple," said F/Lt. Hinz. "While maybe the law says you could have the right-of-way, I don’t want to fight that out in court later. I want to make sure that I arrive safely to my destination by using that extra care."