Whitney Russell
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What To Do if You Encounter a Broken Traffic Light

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Red traffic light in Washington, D.C.
Don’t let a stuck red light get you down

If you’ve ever wondered what to do at a stuck red light, you’re in the right place. Here are some practical steps to take to safely navigate this tricky situation.

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When everyone seems stuck at an intersection

The first thing to do if you suspect a broken traffic light is to observe the cars around you. If other drivers at the intersection are also paused indefinitely, chances are the other traffic lights at the intersection are stuck on red.

In this case, treat the light as a four-way stop. This means that all vehicles should come to a total stop at the intersection, with the first one arriving at the intersection being the first one to go. If you and another car arrive at the intersection at the exact same time, you should let the driver to your right go through first.

When it’s just you that seems stuck

If cross-traffic is moving but the red light hasn’t changed for you, there are two things you should do. First, it’s possible that the road’s electromagnetic sensor hasn’t detected your vehicle’s presence. If it’s safe to do so, back up your vehicle just a bit to try to trigger the sensor and change the light.

The second option is to safely proceed through the intersection. We recommend doing this only if you’ve waited a sufficient length of time and you’re sure no other vehicles are around.

And be aware that a cop could pull you over for running the red light. Though you might be lucky to get one that is understanding of the situation and personally checks the light to verify that it’s not working.

For more on navigating tricky traffic situations, check out this article. Then read up on the push for longer yellow lights.

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