Bill aims to end driver confusion about dark signals


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A law most drivers don’t even know they’re breaking could soon change.  

A bill on the way to Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk would require drivers to treat a malfunction traffic light as a four-way stop.  

State Sen. Rick Jones created the measure. In a statement released by his office, Jones says the legislation is about safety when a traffic light is out. 

“It can be dangerous if two drivers have different expectations when approaching an intersection where the traffic light is out. If one driver thinks everyone is stopping and another driver thinks he has the right of way, that’s a recipe for disaster,” Jones stated. 

It should also clear up confusion about what to do at a traffic light that’s out.

“I would treat it like a four-way (stop). I would stop and let whoever was there first go,” said driver Eric Whitby.

Neil Shaffer agreed. 

“If the power’s out? Yeah, you just stop at the light and you treat it like a four-way stop,” he said.

However, current state law doesn’t require intersections with a dark traffic light be treated as a four-way stop.

Even some police officers get the rule confused.

“That is true. It is very confusing,” said Sgt. Cory Luce, who leads the Kent County Sheriff’s Office’s traffic division.

“Technically, a person who’s going through the light, technically in circumstances may actually be doing the legally right thing, even though it’s probably not the safest,” he explained.

Michigan law says a vehicle approaching an intersection must yield to another vehicle which has already entered the intersection from a different highway. It also specifies that when two vehicles enter an intersection from different highways at approximately the same time, the vehicle on the left must yield to the vehicle on the right.

The law was written this way to keep traffic flowing when stop lights are out.

Additionally, the state law requires every vehicle is driven “at a careful and prudent speed” with regard to the traffic and any other condition existing at the time.

Jones says the bill has the support of the Michigan State Police, and should reach the governor’s desk in the next two weeks. Jones anticipates Snyder will sign it, clarifying a law even some in law enforcement say, lacks common sense.

“I think it will only reinforce and enhance what the public already thinks to be the case,“ said Luce. “It will give law enforcement the tool now to better enforce it, because if somebody blows through the dark light, they are in violation.”

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