Inoperative Traffic Lights

Question

Chris Burns asked: Group of cyclists pull up to a traffic signal.  Their presence does not trigger or activate the traffic light to change.  It won’t change from red to green.  Are they legally entitled to go through the light?  Must they turn around?

Answer

A frequently heard response is that it should be treated as an inoperative traffic control signal and the following statutes would apply.

s. 316.1235 – Vehicle Approaching Intersection in which Traffic Lights are Inoperative

The driver of a vehicle approaching an intersection in which the traffic lights are inoperative shall stop in the manner indicated in s. 316.123(2) for approaching a stop intersection. In the event that only some of the traffic lights within an intersection are inoperative, the driver of a vehicle approaching an inoperative light shall stop in the above-prescribed manner.

s. 316.123Vehicle Entering Stop or Yield Intersection

(2)(a) …. every driver of a vehicle approaching a stop intersection indicated by a stop sign shall stop ….  After having stopped, the driver shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle which has entered the intersection from another highway or which is approaching so closely on said highway as to constitute an immediate hazard during the time when the driver is moving across or within the intersection.

Being unsure of the correct answer, we referred Chris to the FHP Q&A site www.flhsmv.gov. This is their response:

Dear Chris,

Thank you for your recent inquiry. In your scenario, a cyclist should not stop, yield, and then proceed through the intersection if faced with a Red Steady Signal. The best suggestion would be to make the right turn and later safely u-turn, or possibly find an alternate route. For instances where you know a bicycle/motorcycle is not tripping the sensors, one is encouraged to contact the regulating authority (FDOT or County maintenance).

Let us know if you have any further questions about this,

Customer Service Center

Correspondence/Email Unit

Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles

www.flhsmv.gov

It was argued (but not addressed to the FHP) that another statute might apply and actually contradict that answer.

s. 316.074 – Obedience to and Required Traffic Control Devices

(2) No person shall drive any vehicle from a roadway to another roadway to avoid obeying the indicated traffic control indicated by such traffic control device.

If that is the case and there is no pedestrian signal to activate the signal, it seems we cannot avoid the signal, even by legally turning right onto another roadway, and are required to wait until the light changes, even if means forever.  Could that be an argument in mitigation of a citation?

Even though it is not stated, the probable intent of this statute is to prevent people from using a shopping center or parking area to avoid traffic backed up at a light with the intent to turn right.

That argument is likely only academic since a cyclist legally making a right turn then a U-turn to circumvent an inoperative signal would only be illegal if the intent is to avoid the signal.  That intent is only in the mind of the cyclist.  It would probably not be substantive legal basis for running the light instead of following the FHP guidance above, nor would it be a basis for a citation for a violation of s. 316.074.

It is recommended that cyclists learn the proper methods for using the loops to activate the signals through other resources.

Posted in Ask Geo, Stop Signs & Red Lights Tagged with: , ,
10 comments on “Inoperative Traffic Lights
  1. Frank says:

    If the ground sensor is not working, I would say 99.9% of the time, you could always just make the right turn (making sure you can safely) and hit the walk signal button. It is extremely rare that there is no pedestrian walkway (with a traffic control device) on either side of any roadway crossing.

    It only takes an extra min or two and is probably the safest way..
    Of course you then should contact the correct dept. that handles the ground sensors at the next available work day.

    Geo, can you get us a list (with numbers) of the different (county) departments that handle such sensors?

    • JM Palacios says:

      Signal maintenance is typically handled by county traffic engineering departments. If your county doesn’t have a traffic engineering department or division, look for transportation and then maybe public works.

  2. Geo says:

    Frank,

    You are on your own on that. We do laws here.

  3. NE2 says:

    “The best suggestion would be to make the right turn and later safely u-turn, or possibly find an alternate route.”
    Durr… what if there’s no turn on red?

  4. Herman F. Ebeling Jr. says:

    Okay, here’s a good question about this. I have an intersection that I travel through on a daily basis. During the day it’s pretty easy to go through regardless of direction traveled, i.e. it seems to take the same amount of time if one is north-to-south as it does if one is traveling east-t0-west.

    But at night (I’m not sure when the change takes place) it seems as if traffic traveling in the north-to-south road has longer reds then does the traffic on the east-to-west road.

    Knowing this I “detour” around so that when I come to this intersection I am traveling on the east-to-west road instead of the north-to-south road. And do not have to wait as long or at all at a red light.

    Would this maneuver be considered “circumventing” a traffic control device? Also in order to make this “detour” I have to circle around a smallish shopping center as opposed to staying on the north-to-south road, so I am not cutting through anyone’s parking lot.

  5. Geo says:

    Sounds like what we do all the time, avoiding the busy traffic areas. Impossible to enforce our thoughts. Whether it is technically legal?

  6. NE2 says:

    The law says that you can’t “drive any vehicle from a roadway to another roadway to avoid…”. The implication is probably that between those roadways is a non-roadway such as a parking lot.

    By the way, if you get on the sidewalk, you’re not a “driver” per 316.003(10), so then you can go wherever you want that’s otherwise legal. Specifically, you can use the sidewalk to avoid a light.

    • Herman F. Ebeling Jr. says:

      NE2,

      I think you are misunderstanding what I’m describing. During the day the traffic lights that control this intersection give both roads red for the same amount of time. However at night (I’m not sure at what time) that changes. And the north-to-south road has the red for a considerably longer time period then the east-to-west road.

      What I do is instead of staying on the north-to-south road is I hook a right a couple of blocks south of this intersection travel west a couple of blocks, then resume my northbound travel, turning right onto the east-to-west road and turning left to continue through intersection headed north.

      Now then if I were to stay on the north-to-south road and come to the intersection if the light is already red. I have a VERY long red. If I do this my options are:

      a) wait “forever” for the light to change to green
      b) dismount and walk over to the crosswalk button and push it and again wait “forever” for the light to change
      c) make a right turn go down hook a U-turn and re-approach the intersection and make another right turn
      d) do what I do, turn a block or two before the intersection, and make a right to continue going north then make another right onto the street that crosses the street that I was on then make a left back onto that street

      However at no time am I “cutting” through any parking lots to do any of this. And I am not (at least in my opinion) “circumventing” said traffic control device. I am just approaching it from an angle that gives me the best chance of getting a green light.

      If I don’t do what I am doing I’m “stuck” sitting a red light for an extended amount of time. Even if/when I approach this intersection and the crosswalk timer is counting down, that is no guarantee that the light will change green for the street that I am on. And there is no guarantee that there will be a car coming to the intersection either behind me or from the opposite direction.

      • NE2 says:

        I understand what you’re saying, and I am saying that this definitely does not fall within the constraints of 316.074(2). In other words, you’re in the clear.

  7. Herman F. Ebeling Jr. says:

    NE2,

    Thank you, that is my take on it as well.

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