Y2K Worries: What to Do if Traffic Lights Don’t Work

If you’re a Y2K pessimist and anticipate power outages and failed
traffic lights along with other headaches on Jan. 1, here’s one to
keep in the glove box.

According to Dr. Brad Bradshaw of the American Driver and
Traffic Safety Education Association, a national organization
representing the nation’s driver education teachers, in the event
of traffic light failure, drivers should revert to right-of-way

Laws vary by state, said Bradshaw, but generally speaking, right
of way states the following:

In the case of a cross street (‘X’) intersection, the general
rule is first person in, first person out.

When two vehicles approaching the intersection at perpendicular
angles arrive at approximately the same time, the driver on the
left yields to the driver on the right.

When two vehicles approach head-on, a different right-of-way
rule comes into play: the person turning left must yield to
oncoming traffic.

‘Communication is key,’ said Bradshaw. ‘If you go charging [into
the intersection], then a catastrophe’s going to happen.’

Bradshaw’s advice for safely reaching your destination in the
event of a traffic light malfunction is as follows:

  1. Slow down as you approach the intersection.
  2. Stop if there are other cars at the intersection.
  3. Communicate with the drivers of the other vehicles, using the
    car lights, horn or ‘polite’ hand gestures.

Bradshaw said drivers who travel the same roads regularly would
notice a defunct traffic light and react appropriately. ‘In
general, whenever there is a change in condition, people tend to
exercise more caution,’ he said.

Contact: Dr. Brad Bradshaw, American Driver and Traffic
Safety Education Association, Indiana, Pa., 800-896-7703; fax:
724-357-7595; web site:

Background: Jerry Deffenbacher, psychology professor and
developer of animated road-design software that tests traffic
patterns? potential for creating road rage, Colorado State
University, Fort Collins, Colo., 970-491-6432.

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