Flashing lights causing confusion

April 18, 2002|BY MARLO BARNHART

Some Washington County motorists are seeing red, along with yellow, because of flashing traffic lights they encounter at some intersections late at night and in the wee hours of the morning.

"We've had some complaints and some concerns from motorists," said 1st Sgt. Rick Narron of the Maryland State Police barracks in Hagerstown.

Some fear the traffic lights might be malfunctioning, but that's not the case, he said.

The Maryland State Highway Administration studied traffic patterns at intersections at different times of day. Based on this research, a number of lights have been placed on "flashers" at certain times of the day, said Nancy Jones, an SHA transportation engineer in Hagerstown.


Narron said troopers have observed that many motorists don't know what to do when they encounter a flashing traffic signal.

When faced with a flashing yellow signal, drivers are to proceed through the intersection with caution. If making a left turn, the motorists are to yield to oncoming vehicles as they would an any uncontrolled intersection.

Drivers must stop when they encounter a flashing red signal and then proceed, just as if they were facing a stop sign.

Jones said drivers encountering flashing lights should observe the preceding rules even if they believe the light is malfunctioning.

"We do this to speed along the traffic during off hours," Jones said. "It's not meant to confuse but to keep drivers from sitting and sitting at a red light when no other traffic is around."

She said she understands the confusion, especially if a driver encounters the regular intersection on automatic during the daylight hours and then again later when that same intersection is on flashers.

The earliest that any intersection lights go on flashers is 10 p.m., Jones said. Usually they revert to the regular pattern around 5 a.m.

"There are exceptions, and we make allowances for those," Jones said.

One such exception is the intersection of U.S. 40 at Md. 63 known as Huyetts Crossroads, Jones said.

During the Hagerstown Speedway season, the light at Huyetts doesn't go on flashers until around midnight because of the increased traffic late at night from the track, Jones said.

Other considerations for putting lights on flashers is whether there have been wrecks at that location and how good the sight distance is for vehicles pulling out into the traffic lanes, Jones said.

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