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Traffic signal alert

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Traffic signal alert

Gus Philpott
Woodstock Advocate
December 17, 2009

In April a driver in Oswego, Ill. ran a red light that he couldn't see because snow had blown and stuck against the red lens of the traffic signal.

An Oswego police detective reportedly said that the snow over the red light "caused" a driver to run the red light and hit a vehicle turning left, killing the other driver. (The photo to the right illustrates the problem. It does not necessarily portray the light at the time of the crash.)

Well, I disagree. The obscured traffic light did not "cause" the driver to run the red light. If that driver couldn't see a green light (or any light on the traffic signal), then he needed to treat it as a four-way stop and come to a complete stop before entering the intersection.

The energy-efficient LED lights in use in many traffic signals do not generate sufficient (any?) heat to melt snow. I wonder if the traffic-light folks or the engineers at IDOT considered that, when they chose the LED light. Think so? When somebody sues the traffic light manufacturer, a city or IDOT and collects $10-20 million, was there a savings with LED lights?

Don't count on the oncoming vehicle to yield, when you turn left in front of it. It's too easy to assume, just because you see your light changing, that the oncoming driver will see you, slow and stop so that you can turn in front of him.

How many people pull into an intersection on the green and wait to complete their left turn?

After following a Woodstock police officer one day in a left-turn lane and watching him stop at the stop bar on the green light to wait for oncoming traffic to clear, I re-thought my own driving habit of pulling into the intersection to wait.

While it's not illegal to pull into the intersection on the green light if there is heavy oncoming traffic, is it smart? Not at all. So what, if it costs me 60 seconds to wait through a traffic-light cycle. That's a small price to pay, if I avoid an accident and all the delay, time and money that would cost.

So this winter, watch for those snow-filled traffic light covers. If you can't see the light, think. How do you know the light is not red?

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