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Stopping at dark intersections

When power outages occur and traffic signals fail, I've often urged drivers to treat darkened intersections as all-way stops. Now, I see John B. Townsend II at AAA Mid-Atlantic is noting that Maryland has no law requiring that.

Oh, swell. Have I been telling people the wrong thing?

No, says Buel C. Young, a spokesman for the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration. "That's what we recommend." In fact, a list of driving tips that the agency put out Monday included this: "When a traffic light is malfunctioning or not working, you should treat this intersection as a four-way stop sign. Come to a complete stop and yield to all other traffic, then proceed when the way is clear."

Still, there's no Maryland law requiring drivers to do so. That was the point of Townsend's statement. He noted that Del. Saqib Ali, who represents District 39 in Montgomery County, has proposed the Malfunctioning Traffic Light Act (pdf) for the past three General Assembly sessions. If passed, the bill would require drivers to reduce speed and prepare to yield to other vehicles when approaching an intersection with a darkened traffic signal.

"It is imperative that motorists treat intersections with a malfunctioning traffic signal as a four-way stop," Townsend said. But it's not illegal in Maryland to ignore that very common bit of traffic etiquette.

Aside from the logic of following that guidance, Townsend said a driver who ignores it could still wind up in court. The standard for determining legal duty, known as "reasonable care," is elevated when approaching an intersection with a dark signal, he said.

Young, at the MVA, and I agreed on our other most frequently mentioned driver concern after bad weather: Headlights should be turned on when you're using your windshield wipers. "And that is the law," he said.

By Robert Thomson  | July 28, 2010; 3:05 PM ET
Categories:  Driving, Maryland  | Tags:  Dr. Gridlock, travel tips  
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Unreal that this behavior is legal. When I first moved here, I came across an out signal near Tenleytown. A car would go, followed by thirteen other cars behind him until somone crossing would have edged enough in to make them stop. Whereby, 13 cars would follow him and the cycle continued. Upon reaching my destination, I asked a colleague if stopping at these lights was the law here (as it was in California where I'm from). I was told that it was, but that no one knew how to drive here. Apparently, that statement is only half right.

Posted by: oldtimehockey | July 28, 2010 3:38 PM | Report abuse

Etiquette? In Maryland?

Posted by: jiji1 | July 28, 2010 3:43 PM | Report abuse

Wait a minute. Maryland, the nanny-state that has a rule for everything, has no law requiring drivers to treat a dark signal as a 4-way stop? Across, the river in Ole' Virginny, the largest county in the state wants to ban smoking at bus stops. I don't even know you people anymore.

Posted by: AIRS91 | July 28, 2010 5:24 PM | Report abuse

I'll have to check but the driving manu8al from Maryland says to treat them as 4 way stops. That's what I recall, but will need to double check that.

Posted by: dkf747 | July 29, 2010 8:13 AM | Report abuse

Scariest part of being out in last week's storm was trying to get through all those darkened lights in MontCo afterwards without getting t-boned.

I don't understand what could possibly convince people that it's okay to drive through an uncontrolled intersection at full speed. Just because it's not illegal, doesn't mean it can't be extremely dangerous...

Posted by: HydroxCookies | July 29, 2010 6:40 PM | Report abuse

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