Rules of the Road

Rules of the Road: How long must I wait at broken stoplight?

Question: At a traffic light that is malfunctioning how long do you have to wait before you proceed?

Answer: I don’t believe there is a definite answer that I can provide.

There are a number of reasons that a light may appear to be malfunctioning for a short period of time. If an emergency vehicle has passed through an intersection using the “Opticom” to change the signal, it will take two or three cycles for the light to return to its normal cycle. If there is an emergency vehicle in the area with the LED-style light bar flashing, it may affect the signal. If you have pulled forward past the sensor loops and then had to stop for a light, it may not change for you until someone pulls in behind you to activate the signal.

If you believe the light is malfunctioning, you need to be sure that it truly is before you proceed. If an officer observes you disobey the signal but it is working properly for him, it may be difficult to argue the infraction. You also need to call and report the malfunctioning signal to the city (or other appropriate agency) so they can have it repaired.

Q: Can a citizen report a bad driver? I attempted to cross in a marked crosswalk with my bike and traffic stopped in both directions, as it should. But some kid drove up from behind, crossed into the oncoming lane to drive around the cars stopped for me, and nearly hit me as he blew through the crosswalk without even slowing down. If I had gotten his plate number could I have reported him and if so, would any action have been taken?

A: Yes, you can report a bad driver, even if you don’t have a license number. The police/sheriff/Washington State Patrol all need to know if there are issues happening in their respective jurisdictions that they may be able to address. For a Bellingham crosswalk, the Bellingham Police traffic unit would like to know about the ongoing issue with drivers failing to stop for pedestrians/bicycles.

As far as enforcement action, most violations need to actually be seen by the officer before a citation/infraction can be issued.

Rules of the Road is a regular column with questions and answers on road laws, safe driving habits and general police practices. Answers come from David Wright, a retired officer from the Bellingham Police Department who serves on the Whatcom County Traffic Safety Task Force. For previous Rules of the Road columns or to ask a question, go to