Observation and Modeling of Traffic Operations at Intersections in Malfunction Flash Mode
Jenior, Peter M.
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When a traffic signals malfunction monitoring unit detects a problem with a traffic signal such as the simultaneous display of green indications to conflicting movements or loss of power to some signal heads, the signal is automatically placed into flash mode as a safety precaution. Signals can have either red/red malfunction flash mode or yellow/red malfunction flash mode, and the mode cannot change by time of day or day of week. This study analyzed traffic operation at 34 instances of yellow/red malfunction flash and 9 instances of red/red malfunction flash in the Atlanta, Georgia area. Many of these instances were during high volume periods. A high level of driver confusion exists at malfunction flash intersections. The rate at which through major street drivers (i.e. those facing a flashing yellow signal) stopped exceeded 75 percent at some yellow/red flash intersections. This creates a safety hazard for other major street drivers who are not expecting vehicles to stop, and for minor street drivers who cannot tell what type of control is being presented to cross traffic or do not understand that vehicles are not required to stop when approaching a flashing yellow indication. Furthermore, high stopping rates at a flashing yellow signal eliminate many of the operational benefits that yellow/red flash is assumed to have over red/red flash. Based on the findings of this study, the use of red/red flash should be the primary flash mode and possibly used exclusively. Requiring all vehicles to stop will improve safety conditions and not have large operational impacts at intersections where a majority of major street vehicles are already stopping at a flashing yellow signal. Yellow/red flash may be an acceptable malfunction flash mode at the intersection of a very large street and a very small street, but additional measures would be required at these intersections to address potential driver confusion.