Think Miami drivers are crazy? Now put them on roads after a hurricane

Is traffic ever normal in South Florida?

Frazzled drivers who think they have seen it all now have the added aftermath of Hurricane Irma to deal with: downed or blinking red or yellow traffic lights, power outages that reduce visibility, road debris that can make navigating roads akin to a pinball in a machine.

And, equally frightening, are the drivers who do not know what to do when approaching an intersection with a non-working traffic signal.

Irma has already been blamed in the death Tuesday of a 59-year-old man in Ocala who was driving a Ford F-250 south on U.S. 301. A driver in a Peterbilt semi-trailer was driving west. Both men approached an intersection with a non-working light.

The Ford became entangled under the trailer of the semi as it rotated clockwise across a grassy median and the driver died at the scene, the Ocala Star Banner reported.

Ocala isn’t unique when it comes to driver confusion post-Irma.

“We have had some traffic accidents occur when the lights are out,” said Robin Pinkard, a spokeswoman for Miami-Dade police. “We have as many officers and resources out there as we can to help out when there are no traffic signals. But if you come to an intersection with no light it is treated as a four-way stop. We see a lot of people who seem to be unaware of that and not follow that rule.”

The 2017 Florida Statutes mandate that a flashing red means drivers must treat the intersection as a four-way stop. The first driver to approach and stop at the intersection has the right of way to proceed once everyone has stopped.

This applies, too, even if the lights are flashing yellow.

True, the statute on flashing yellow, or a caution signal, says that drivers may proceed through the intersection with caution. But that only applies when the lights are functioning properly. Generally, lights at intersections operate on the traditional green-yellow-red cycle. If they are not, then it’s a safe bet the light is not working — almost a given after a storm or power outage.

“Flashing yellow is to be treated as a stop, not a slow down,” Pinkard said. Drivers need to come to a complete stop before proceeding through the intersection. “Treat it as a stop because you don’t know what the other side is flashing.”

The light on the other side could be flashing yellow, too, or red, but you may not be able to see the other side. If everyone is proceeding through the intersection at the same time that’s when accidents happen.

“You don’t know what the other person in the opposite direction is doing,” Pinkard said.

For safety’s sake in this time of disruption, some cities, or officers directing traffic, will barricade left turn lanes. This simplifies the flow. If you come to an intersection where you normally were allowed to get into a turning lane and it is obstructed, drive farther and make a U-turn when it is safe to do so. Or, make a series of right turns where applicable to get to your destination.

The takeaway?

Use extra caution as roads remain compromised after a major storm.