We’ve known the rules since childhood—red means stop and green means go. Yellow means the light is about to turn red. But what does a flashing yellow light mean? According to the Maryland Department of Transportation, a flashing yellow traffic light at an intersection means you should slow down and proceed with caution. Drivers facing a flashing yellow light are permitted by law to proceed through the intersection without stopping. But defensive driving is good practice, especially in situations like these when other drivers can’t always be trusted to adhere to traffic safety rules.
As car accident attorneys at Belsky, Weinberg, & Horowitz, LLC, we continually strive to do our part to increase public awareness about the importance of traffic safety and how to keep Maryland roads safe for all of us. After learning about what a flashing yellow light at an intersection means for drivers, reach out to our office with any additional questions about Maryland traffic law or what to do following an accident.
Flashing Lights at an Intersection
Traffic control signals that normally operate red, green, and yellow may be set to “flashing” mode for various reasons. If there is construction or a broken signal, for example, flashing lights may be used to indicate a change in traffic flow. In these situations, there may be a police officer present to direct traffic. If a law enforcement officer is on the scene, their directions should be followed first, regardless of traffic signals.
But the presence of flashing lights at an intersection doesn’t necessarily mean the light is out of order. Flashing or blinking lights are used permanently at some intersections, and during times of low traffic volume at others. A blinking yellow light at an intersection means, in most cases, that the traffic light facing the intersectional streets is a flashing red light. Unlike a solid yellow light, a flashing yellow signal does not indicate that the light is about to turn red. Instead, the light will remain flashing yellow while the opposing light will continue flashing red. A flashing red light at an intersection means the same thing as a stop sign: come to a full and complete stop, look both ways, and proceed only when it is safe to do so.
When approaching a flashing yellow light at an intersection, you should always check to make sure that cars traveling on cross streets actually come to a stop. Unfortunately, it’s very common for drivers to treat flashing red lights like a yellow light—and blow through the intersection without looking for oncoming traffic. Even though you may have the right of way with a flashing yellow light, it’s sometimes better to let the other driver go first, rather than risk a collision (in these scenarios, often a T-bone collision). Exercising abundant caution when navigating an intersection with flashing lights can help prevent accidents caused by drivers who don’t follow the rules or aren’t paying attention.
How to Report a Broken Traffic Signal in Maryland
While a yellow flashing light does not usually mean that a traffic signal is broken, you may encounter situations in which you believe a traffic light is nonfunctional or has been vandalized. If a light is flashing unusually, doesn’t match the opposing light, is blacked out, doesn’t change colors, or is visibly damaged, there may be an issue. If you encounter a broken traffic signal, Maryland law advises drivers to treat the situation as they would an intersection with four-way stop signs. Stop at the line, yield to any vehicle or pedestrian already in the intersection, and proceed when it is your turn and no danger is present.
It’s also important to report the broken traffic signal as soon as it is discovered. To report a broken traffic signal in Baltimore City, drivers can contact 311 to request a repair. If a light is flashing or nonfunctional, citizens are advised to consider it an emergency situation and request assistance as soon as possible. Once a notification has been received, the Baltimore city government will dispatch a technician to investigate and repair the traffic signal. When calling to report a problem, be prepared to give the exact location of the broken or damaged traffic light, including the names of the streets crossing the intersection and any identifying landmarks.
If you are a driver in Baltimore County or the surrounding Maryland counties, please refer to the information below for where to report a broken traffic signal based on your county.
- Baltimore County. Contact Traffic Engineering and Transportation at 410-887-3554.
- Howard County. Report online or by calling Traffic Engineering at 410-313-2430.
- Anne Arundel County. Call the Traffic Maintenance Shop at 410-222-1940, 7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Make after-hours reports at 410-222-8400.
- Prince George’s County. Call 311 or 301-883-4748 to report a traffic signal problem.
- Carroll County. Use See Click Report or call the State Highway Administration at 410-848-6565.
- Harford County. Use You Click We Fix online or call the Bureau of Highways at 410-638-3279, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday. Report road emergencies after hours to the Sheriff’s Office at 410-838-6600.
What to Do in Case of an Accident
Intersections have the highest frequency of motor vehicle crashes. This is particularly true when drivers are not sure how to interpret traffic signals and proceed without using the caution necessary to safely navigate a confusing situation. When flashing lights are involved, it’s never safe to assume that the other driver will do the right thing. Many accidents are caused when drivers disregard (or don’t make the effort to understand) traffic rules and refuse to yield to drivers who have the right of way.
If you were involved in an intersection collision, move your vehicle to safety and check to make sure no one is injured. After contacting the police, exchanging information with the other driver, and taking photographs of the accident scene, you will need to be in touch with your insurance company to report the incident. In most minor collisions, your insurance will be able to cover the damages you incurred, and you should not have to suffer any serious losses due to the other driver’s error.
But if you were seriously injured or your vehicle sustained severe damages in the collision, if there are any disputes with the insurance company, or if the other party is contesting liability, there can be complications that prevent you from obtaining the compensation you need to recover your losses. In cases like these, you may need the assistance of an experienced car accident attorney to help you recover what you are entitled to. If this describes your situation, we invite you to contact Belsky, Weinberg, & Horowitz, LLC to discuss your case and learn more about your legal options.