You’re driving down Jericho Turnpike when you notice a traffic light isn’t working. Knowing what to do keeps you and your passengers safe and reduces the chance that you’ll hit another driver. Below are the rules when a traffic light is out in New York.

traffic lights out

Treat any intersection without a working light as an all-way stop

New York state law requires all drivers to stop at the intersection if the traffic lights are out or operating improperly. The intersection should be treated as an all-way stop for everyone on the road, including car and motorcycle drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians.

Treating the intersection as a 4-way stop means following the rules of right-of-way, just as if the intersection had a stop sign. When two or more cars come to a stop at the same time, the driver on the left yields to the driver on the right.

If a traffic officer is directing traffic through an intersection with a broken light, follow their guidance.

Driver responsibilities at an intersection with non-working traffic lights

Drivers are still responsible for following all right-of-way rules, including yielding to pedestrians crossing the intersection. When you get your New York driver’s license, you agree that you’ll drive safely and take care of the safety of others on the road.

Exceptions to the general yield rules

Although the rule of thumb is to treat an intersection with a broken traffic light as an all-way stop, there are some exceptions that make the traffic flow a little different:

  • A traffic officer may be directing the flow of traffic. If the light went out because of a storm, it might be difficult to see them in the dark or rain, so pay extra attention to what’s going on around you.
  • The intersection may be under construction and have temporary traffic directions, like a detour sign or other temporary traffic flow controls present.

Use good judgment and drive defensively – other drivers may not know what to do and could pose a greater danger than they ordinarily would.

Navigating uncontrolled intersections

If you reach an intersection with no guidance at all, not even a stop sign, then New York State law’s rules of right away apply. Even if the other driver should yield to you, if they keep going through the intersection, just let them.

Be extra cautious when navigating an uncontrolled intersection in an area where bikers or pedestrians frequent. Some quieter country roads may not have guided intersections, but be popular places for cyclists, so it’s important to consider your surroundings and know the rule for when traffic lights are out.

Procedures for reporting traffic light outages in Suffolk County

The county maintains County Roads in Suffolk County; the State of New York maintains State Roads. If the broken traffic signal is at an intersection of a County Road and a State Road, report the malfunctioning signal to the state by calling (518) 457-0271.

If the road is a County Road, the only way to report it is by written request. Mail a letter, including the exact location of the broken light, to:

Mr. William Hillman, Chief Engineer

Suffolk County Department of Public Works

335 Yaphank Avenue, Yaphank, NY 11980-9744

The Suffolk County Traffic Department website offers more information about reporting faulty traffic signals.

Drive safely, Long Island!

Always err on the side of caution when navigating a traffic intersection. The chances for a devastating collision are high, and you cannot always trust that the other drivers will know the rules when a traffic light is out, or how to properly take turns.

If the unthinkable happens and you are in a collision, contact Carner & DeVita at (631) 543-7070 for a free consultation with a skilled Suffolk County car accident lawyer.