What to do when traffic lights fail

Hint: Just because the light freezes doesn't mean you're supposed to follow suit

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You approach an intersection and find the traffic lights have frozen red. No problem: you know what to do.

Unfortunately, not everyone else at the intersection does.

I experienced this first-hand when a traffic light froze, displaying red in all directions, in Richmond Hill on Highway 7 (at Commerce Valley Drive West) on Monday. Traffic came to a standstill. Not a car, bus nor pedestrian was moving, and in fact, the newly created express bus lanes along the centre of the highway actually created a median barrier leaving motorists without a U-turn escape route option.

Traffic lights normally revert to flashing red in all directions if a malfunction occurs.  Motorists then simply treat it as an all-way stop.  It’s slow going, but at least traffic moves.

When these particular traffic lights locked up showing solid red all around, some motorists wisely concluded the reasonable option was to treat it as a four-way stop.  York Police Const. Blair McQuillan says this is correct in this case, but exercise caution.

However, a row of dumbfounded drivers simply sat there frozen – blocking all lanes.

Related: When and where you’re most likely to get a traffic ticket

Understandably, they didn’t want to “run a red light,” but clearly, after several more minutes of inaction, the light wasn’t changing and these drivers had become unwitting gatekeepers for those stuck behind them.  That’s when the frustrated honking began.

Another motorist took the initiative to walk up to the front and get these drivers moving.  After that, it was clear sailing to my destination of a hardware store in Markham.

That’s when I faced the second proverbial wall of the day.

I attempted to call York Regional Police on the store’s phone to notify them of the traffic hazard.  However, my call to the police non-emergency number (905-773-1221) hit Bell Canada’s “this is a long distance call” firewall.  I’ve used that number for decades from my home in Richmond Hill, so I know it by heart.

I didn’t feel the situation justified a 911 call, but found it disconcerting that I couldn’t otherwise access local police from Markham.

It turns out that York Regional Police do have a toll-free, non-emergency number: it’s 1-866-876-5423 or 1-866-8POLICE.

I’ve never before seen that number – and I’ve lived in York Region for over a quarter century.  In any case, I now know what to do if I’m stonewalled by either unusual situation again.

  • What to do when traffic lights fail Subject: emma On 2013-08-08, at 6:44 PM, Bishop, Bob wrote: Dreamstime photo illustration of traffic light dreamstime_l_13823938.jpg

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