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Flashing Light IntersectionPulling up to an intersection where the lights are flashing or blinking is a recognizable but not-so-frequent scenario for many drivers. A flashing red light operates the same way as a stop sign – your vehicle must come to a complete stop in the intersection and you must yield to traffic and pedestrians, only proceeding when the way is clear. 

Understanding how traffic signals function – and the extra caution needed when they are not functioning – can improve drivers’ habits by reducing speeding and related accidents. This article will address some frequently asked questions about flashing red lights at intersections and right-of-way car accidents.

Why do traffic signals flash red?

The function of a traffic signal is to assign right-of-way to traffic and pedestrians. Modern traffic control signals use traffic lights, in-ground sensors, infrared and microwave sensors, cameras, and more. 

In busy urban areas in Southern California, traffic signals are an essential part not only of traffic management but also keeping everyone on the road safe. When traffic signals malfunction, they revert to continuously flashing lights to indicate drivers to stop. This can occur for a number of reasons: 

  • Physical damage to signals or nearby utility poles or lines that supply power to the intersection 
  • Ice or snow interference with sensors 
  • Mechanical failure. 

If a traffic signal is not indicating any light at all, it should be treated as if it is blinking red. Stay alert and proceed with caution. This can be a simple rotation in a single lane four-way stop. In a large intersection with many lanes of traffic or heavy pedestrian traffic, it can be congested and confusing. 

Can you drive through a flashing red light?

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) Driver Handbook clearly states “a flashing red traffic signal light means STOP.” Driving through an intersection with a flashing red light is the equivalent of running a stop sign. California Vehicle Code VC 21457 states that whenever an illuminated flashing red light is used in a traffic signal, a driver must stop and may proceed subject to the rules applicable after making a stop at a stop sign. If you do not stop, you could receive a traffic citation. If your failure to stop causes an accident, you could be determined to be at fault. 

Who goes first at a blinking red light?

At a four way stop, the vehicle that enters the intersection first goes first. Whether you are turning or going straight ahead, you must come to a complete stop before proceeding. In California, when two vehicles enter a four-way stop intersection at the same time the driver of the vehicle on the left shall yield the right-of-way to the vehicle on his or her immediate right.

How does the right-of-way rule work?

California’s right of way rules are clearly stated in simple language in the California Driver Handbook. The very first sentence of the “Laws and Rules of the Road” section is a direct warning: “Never assume other drivers will give you the right-of-way.”  

The concept of right-of-way can be unfamiliar to young or inexperienced drivers. Failure to yield to the right-of-way can put everyone on the road at risk: other motorists, motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians. 

In an intersection with a traffic light signal, you are given clear indications of who has the right of way. This is a “controlled” intersection. When there are no traffic lights to guide you, you must follow stop sign etiquette and yield to the vehicle on the right when there is any doubt. Always remember to look for other motorists and pedestrians. 

How do you determine fault at a 4 way stop?

Intersections have drivers speeding up, slowing down, and changing directions. The potential for conflict is high at a signal intersection. According to the NHTSA, some of the top driver-related “critical reasons” for intersection related causes include: 

  • Driver error 
  • Inadequate surveillance (not looking) 
  • Illegal maneuver (illegal U-turn, failing to stop, etc.) 
  • False assumption of other’s action
  • Misjudgment of gap or other’s speed. 

Other causes could include driver distraction/inattention, fatigue, and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Although rare, if an accident was caused by a traffic signal malfunction, the agency responsible for operating it could be responsible. Following an accident, the local law enforcement agency (police, sheriff, or California Highway Patrol) will investigate the accident. Fault may be attributed to one party or several. Although this report is an important part of determining liability, it may not be decisive. In some cases, an independent third-party investigation may be required to establish the cause of an accident. Witness accounts and camera footage may also be important evidence in an accident investigation. 

Legal Rights for Victims of Flashing Light Intersection Car Accidents 

Have you been injured in an intersection accident in Southern California? Before you accept any insurance company settlement offer, speak with a knowledgeable lawyer who is familiar with the unique legal issues in flashing red light intersection accidents. Significant compensation may be available for you in a personal injury claim. To speak with an accident attorney about your legal rights, please call 949-558-3421.