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Defective traffic light on city street. | Colling Gilbert Wright

Car Accidents and Defective Traffic Lights

Drivers are generally expected to go, slow, and stop according to the signal lights at an intersection. But what if defective traffic lights cause a car accident? What if conflicting or faulty signals cause vehicles moving in separate directions to collide?

Stoplights aren’t perfect, and our Orlando car accident lawyers have seen multiple cases where improper placement, programming, and operation of a traffic signal resulted in serious injuries. In cases where the light is at fault, the city, town, or municipal agency responsible for maintaining the signal could be liable for damages in your car accident claim.

If you have been injured in a car accident due to defective traffic lights, contacting a car accident attorney is in your best interest. A lawyer can investigate, determine the liable party, and pursue compensation on your behalf. Please call Colling Gilbert Wright at (407) 712-7300 today to schedule a FREE evaluation of your case.

Why Do Traffic Lights Malfunction?

Car accidents caused by defective traffic lights can have serious consequences, including property damage, injuries, and even fatalities. For the most part, intersection-related crashes have little to do with defective traffic lights. Of the 787,236 intersection-related crashes in 2010 reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 52.5% or 413,140 involved traffic signals. In at least 96.1% of those accidents, the critical reason for the crash was attributable to the driver.

From that information, we can conclude that defective traffic lights don’t cause many car accidents. However, the accidents and losses that do occur still need to be investigated, and the liable parties need to be held responsible for their negligence.

While traffic lights are designed to improve safety on the road, they do sometimes malfunction due to a variety of reasons. Some potential causes of defective traffic lights include:

Power Outages

Traffic lights rely on electricity to function properly. If there is a power outage, the traffic lights may go out, causing confusion and increasing the risk of accidents.

Damage from High Winds

Extreme weather conditions, such as heavy rain, snow, or high winds, can damage traffic lights or interfere with their sensors, causing them to malfunction.

Power Surges Due to Lightning

If lightning strikes the electrical source powering the traffic lights at an intersection, it can create a massive spike or power surge. This can cause a traffic light to malfunction or go out.

Damage from Accidents

Car accidents can cause injuries; they also cause property damage. If the control panel or electrical pole powering the traffic lights is damaged in a crash, the lights could malfunction.

Vandalism & Tampering

Some traffic lights fail due to vandalism or illegal tampering. What would drive a person to interfere with the traffic light system when a malfunction could injure or kill innocent people? We won’t profess to know—yet, it can happen.

Wear & Tear or Poor Maintenance

Traffic lights are complex machines with many moving parts. Over time, these parts can wear down or break, causing the traffic lights to malfunction. Traffic lights must be adequately monitored and maintained to avoid malfunctions.

Human Error

Sometimes, traffic lights malfunction due to human error. For example, if a technician fails to properly install or maintain the traffic lights, they may not function as intended.

Read More: How Can a Defective Product Cause a Car Accident?

What to Do If a Traffic Light Malfunctions?

There are several different types of defective traffic lights. It is crucial to understand how to approach each situation in order to minimize the chance of a car accident.

Flashing Lights

You may approach a traffic light to find it flashing. It will either be flashing yellow or red.

Yellow Flashing Traffic Light

If no one is directing traffic and the traffic light is yellow, you may proceed cautiously. While slowing down is important, you needn’t stop except to yield to pedestrians and cyclists. Be aware of other drivers who may not know how to handle the situation. Be prepared to stop if necessary.

Red Flashing Traffic Light

If no one is directing traffic and the traffic light is flashing red, you should treat the intersection as a four-way stop. Come to a complete stop before the crosswalk, painted stop line, or simply before entering the intersection when neither of these is present. Remain aware of other cars, pedestrians, and cyclists.

Adhere to the rules of a four-way stop before proceeding. Whoever reaches the intersection first has the right of way. If multiple vehicles have arrived simultaneously, the car to the right goes first, and the rest follow in a clockwise direction.


If no one is directing traffic and the traffic light appears to be blacked out, you should treat the intersection as a four-way stop. As described above, stop at the crosswalk, stopping line, or before the intersection. The first car to arrive or the vehicle on the right may go first. The rest of the traffic should proceed in a clockwise direction.

Unfortunately, vehicles approaching from other directions may not be seeing the same blacked-out light that you are. Proceed with extreme caution in this situation. Ensure other cars have completely stopped before entering the intersection.

Unresponsive or Phase Skipping Signal

Sitting through multiple phases of a traffic signal without getting the green light to go can be very frustrating. However, unless someone is directing traffic, you could still receive a ticket if you broach the intersection without the signal.

Your best bet is to use your right indicator and make your way to the right turn lane. Be respectful and cautious of the other drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists as you move to make your right turn.

Who Is Liable When Defective Traffic Lights Cause a Collision?

As with any accident, liability in an crash that occurs because of a defective traffic light often lies with the driver. Whether that driver disregarded caution when approaching the malfunctioning light or was simply confused, proving that any other entity was responsible for the collision could be difficult.

Of course, witnesses or camera footage at the intersection could help support a claim. Be sure to take down the information of any witnesses and document any testimony you receive from them.

If you believe a government agency is responsible for your injury in a car accident, there are certain factors you must prove. You must show that the government agency:

  • Had a duty to use reasonable care to maintain the traffic signals
  • DID NOT use reasonable care when maintaining the traffic signals
  • Failed to use reasonable care, resulting in injury or death

If appropriate signage and warnings informed motorists of the issue, you may have trouble proving your claim. However, you may have a strong case for negligence if you uncover information that implies the government agency knew about the problem and neglected to remedy it.

Report Defective Traffic Lights

There are a few ways to report a problem with a traffic light. If you notice a traffic light malfunction, it is incredibly helpful to report it. You may be saving someone’s life—at the very least, you may have saved them the frustration of a fender bender.

You can report the issue in Orlando online or by phone using the City of Orlando website. You can also contact your city or county’s public works or transportation department or call the non-emergency police department number to report.

Contact a Car Accident Lawyer Today

Defective traffic lights have the potential to cause terrible accidents with serious consequences. While there are several reasons why traffic lights can malfunction, there are also several things you can do to reduce your risk of being involved in an accident.

By being aware of your surroundings, slowing down, following the law, and reporting malfunctioning traffic lights, you can help improve safety on the road and reduce the risk of accidents. However, should you be injured in an accident due to defective traffic lights, it would be in your best interest to hire an experienced Orlando car accident attorney.

The Orlando car accident lawyers of Colling Gilbert Wright are skilled in investigating, establishing liability, and pursuing just compensation in these types of accidents. Contact us today to schedule a FREE case evaluation. We serve clients in Orlando and throughout Florida.

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