Do I have to stop if traffic lights aren’t working?

CALDWELL COUNTY, NC (09-12-2017)…Do I have to stop if traffic lights aren’t working?…On Monday, September 11, 2017 motorists where faced with this question when traffic lights on HWY 321 in Lenoir, NC in front of Lowe’s Hardware were totally dark due to a storm related power outage.  Most motorists may actually have no idea what to do as they approach a totally dark traffic light.  And, it was apparently the case in this situation…

Now back to the question – Do I have to stop if traffic lights aren’t working?  After consulting with a member of the NCDOT and the NCSHP, the answer is a very basic and simple one…an intersection with totally dark traffic lights now turns into a 4-way stop by law.  Here is an excerpt from NC General Statute (G.S. 20-158):  “When a traffic signal is not illuminated due to a power outage or other malfunction, vehicles shall approach the intersection and proceed through the intersection as though such intersection is controlled by a stop sign on all approaches to the intersection.  This subdivision shall not apply if the movement of traffic at the intersection is being directed by a law enforcement office, another authorized person, or another type of traffic control device.”

If traffic lights are out due to a storm or power outage, then drivers are to stop at the intersection as though it is a four-way-stop. Drivers must then proceed through the intersection one by one in the order of first-come-first-serve. This means that you must yield to the right of way to others who have arrived first. If two cars arrive at the same time, then the vehicle to the right will proceed first.

Last year we asked First Sergeant Byers of the NCSHP and he stated, “This is a rare situation, but does happen once in a while during storms like this incident. During those times, an intersection that is normally controlled by a stop and go signal which loses power, should then be treated as a four way stop by statute.”  He also added, “The NCSHP urges motorists to drive defensively at all times, especially during major weather events such as this one. Motorists must be able to control their vehicle (to include speed, direction and stopping ability) at all times. They should obey any speed limits and warning signs for the particular roadway they are driving upon. During inclement weather, motorists should slow down and increase their following distances. The ultimate responsibility to drive in this manner, lies with the driver.”  First Sergeant Byers was promoted earlier this year and is now serving as a Lieutenant at Troop G Headquarters (Asheville).