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Traffic Control and Behavior: When flashing lights overshadow predictability

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo -- A recent rollover collision on base at Peterson and Stewart as well as several near miss collisions prompted a question. How does one execute an appropriate reaction to the rarely seen form of traffic control: flashing lights?

Flashing traffic lights at an intersection is a form of traffic control used to prevent people from sitting at traffic lights for extended periods during non-peak hours.

Flashing red lights are treated like stop signs, whereas flashing yellow lights allow drivers to continue driving through the light while yielding to oncoming traffic, according to the Department of Transportation.

"If you approach a flashing red light, you have to come to a complete stop. Flashing yellow lights you approach with caution, generally slow your speed," said Daniel Yokum, 21st Civil Engineer Squadron.

There are very few four-way stops or intersections where flashing lights are commonly used as a form of controlling traffic. Here, flashing lights are used at four-way intersections when the traffic is at its slowest, beginning at 6 p.m. and ending at 5 a.m., said Yokum.

For those curious about the designation of control of the lights: red is flashed on secondary roads, and yellow on primary roads, which gives precedence to primary. An example of this can be seen at the Peterson and Stewart intersection.

"The whole thing about traffic control is predictability," said Yokum. "People have to know what to expect when they interact with others because you're moving at high speeds. Driving is a game of faith."

And faith can be tested on the roads here, particularly when expectations are mixed with uncertainty.

"Your expectations are going to behave in a predictable manner, said Yokum. "That's what traffic control is all about is getting everybody to behave in a predictable manner, so you can anticipate what other drivers are going to do."

Bottom line: be aware of the difference between flashing yellows and flashing reds. Yellow means yield, red means stop.

"The etiquette is not just for Colorado, it's nationwide. It's something every driver should be aware of," said Yokum.

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