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Behind-the-Wheel

What to do when traffic signals are not working at an intersection

Safe driving when lights out

With all the power outages in the past few weeks, there have been a lot of intersections where traffic lights were out. Would you please remind everyone of the four-way stop procedure, as it seems most have forgotten it or never learned it.

Oddly enough, this seems to be a difficult task for many drivers. Perhaps it has been a lack of opportunity to practice the requirements that leaves them mentally unprepared to realize what is required and then do it.

This creates a very dangerous situation at an intersection and the court case of Stevens v. Sleeman illustrates that.

The requirements are simply stated:

• If the traffic signals are not functioning at an intersection, the driver must stop before entering the intersection.

• If two vehicles stop at about the same time, drivers must yield to the vehicle on the right.

• If a vehicle is already in the intersection, drivers must yield and allow it to proceed.

My personal experience is much the same as the reader who requested this article. Don't ever expect traffic to stop as required.

Take extra time to thoroughly scan the intersection and its approaches to insure that you identify all hazards. The best "rule of thumb" here is if you can't see, you can't go.

This situation is especially hazardous because stopped vehicles can hide other traffic from you, or you from other traffic. You may have to carefully creep into the intersection until you are certain it is safe to proceed.

When the traffic lights are working, the side impact or “T-Bone” crash is most common when making a left turn. When the lights are not working, being hit from either side while travelling straight through is also likely.

You and your passengers are especially vulnerable as the sides of your vehicle have the least protection in comparison to front or rear-end crashes.

If other drivers will not give you the right of way, it may be wise to make a right turn instead. Find another nearby intersection where it is safe and then return to your original route.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.



More Behind the Wheel articles

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About the Author

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement experience. He has been writing his column for most of the 20 years of his service in the RCMP.

The column was 'The Beat Goes On' in Fort St. John, 'Traffic Tips' in the South Okanagan and now 'Behind the Wheel' on Vancouver Island and here on Castanet.net.

Schewe retired from the force in January of 2006, but the column has become a habit, and continues.

To comment, please email

To learn more, visit DriveSmartBC



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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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