Traffic Signal Accidents

We drive through countless traffic signals everyday, and we rely upon them to assign green, yellow, and red lights to control multiple streams of traffic.  We trust signal lights to keep the vehicles and pedestrians moving in a reasonably safe and efficient manner.  And, despite our regular exposure to red lights, most of us really do not know how they operate!

Mr. Marceau has two decades of experience designing many hundreds of traffic signals for permanent and temporary intersections (work zones), and investigating crashes at signal light intersections.  He is an internationally-recognized author and instructor on reconstructing accidents at signalized intersections.   

Traffic signals are unique from one intersection to another, and each signal light has a plan, or blueprint, that was prepared by a team of traffic signal technicians and engineers.  But, despite their uniqueness all traffic signals share many commonalities such as how they are programmed, constructed, and maintained.  National and state standards exist to provide uniform signal displays to pedestrians and drivers.

Over the years Mr. Marceau has heard many common themes in traffic light accident cases, and he has heard many myths about signals.  Here are a few:

Signal lights CANNOT randomly do their own thing!  Signals can only do what they were programmed to do.  And, they can only operate within a fairly narrow set of parameters for timing and phasing.

It is impossible to tell what the lights were doing at the time of the accident.  WRONG...usually. Witness and driver statements, when compared to the operating and timing plan for the particular traffic signal, often tell us a lot about what the signal lights were doing before and at the time of the crash.  And, this can be used to determine which driver or pedestrian ran the red light or stepped out into traffic.

Both drivers had a green light so it really wasn't their fault.  NO!  Because of traffic signal safety components both drivers will not have a green light at the same time.

"My green light ended so I know the driver coming towards me lost their green light at the same time.  That's how traffic lights work."  NO!!!  It is very common for opposing lights to have different green, yellow, and red intervals, or time durations.

"So maybe I did run the red light, but it was only by a tenth of a second.  Everyone does that on occasion.  I didn't really cause this crash."  Traffic signals have several layers of protection built into their operation.  Should a driver run a red light by just a little bit it will rarely if ever cause a crash...unless someone else already did something wrong.  When a driver runs a red light and causes an accident they almost always had significant time and distance to have avoided the crash, but they just kept going.

"The red light was too short and it caused me to crash into the car!"  This can happen in certain circumstances, but it is rare.  There are usually several other layers of protection built into traffic lights to reasonably avoid crashes from a vehicle entering the intersection a fraction of a second or so after the light turns red.  And, if a red light was in fact short by a small amount such as if the engineer mis-timed the red interval, it is not likely that the shortage was the cause of the crash.

Mr. Marceau is always available to review your particular client's accident case, and to help you understand the technical aspects.  He will rely upon signal design plans, phasing diagrams, timing charts, wiring diagrams, photos, and driver and witness statements to help him understand who did what while the traffic lights were operating.

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