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A situation happened to me today that got me thinking. I live in Victoria, Australia.

I was driving and entered an intersection on a green light to make a turn. I waited until there was no oncoming traffic, by which time the light turned amber, to complete my turn. As I was completing my turn the lights started to flash amber, which indicates an error with the signals and that drivers need to follow the rules for unregulated intersections. (There are also some pedestrian crossings with red-amber-green lights that flash amber as part of their cycle before turning back to green, but not in the area I was driving.)

After I completed the turn I could see that at least the next two sets of lights had been affected too and were flashing amber as well. As I approached the first set it changed back to red and I was able to stop in time. I was wondering what would have happened if I drove through the intersection just as the light changed to red (with not enough time to stop) and got a fine for driving through a red light? Would the authorities realise that there had just been an outage of the traffic lights and not issue it or would I have to prove that the lights had just been down to avoid having to pay the fine?

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    Sounds like a major design flaw if you're certain it didn't first go solid amber for the standard duration before turning red. (If they have that design flaw then the fact that you observed it would convince me as a judge or jury that you're not only innocent, but that the executive and police have bigger concerns than issuing citations!) – feetwet Aug 31 '15 at 13:30
  • The lights were only flashing amber for 30-60 seconds, which I've never seen before. But they definitely went from flashing amber to solid red (with a tiny flicker where the red went off for maybe ~50ms). I'm not completely sure that the lights I was waiting at went solid amber before flashing amber. I am familiar with that intersection and it felt "normal". The solid amber lights stay on for longer than the duration of one flash. – CJ Dennis Sep 1 '15 at 3:43
  • @feetwet: Someone who has noticed that a light is flashing amber isn't going to stare at the light continually to ensure that it's still flashing. I would suggest that the only sane way to come out of the flashing-amber situation is to have the red light illuminate but be treated, for the duration of a normal amber light, as though it was amber. Likewise, if a light is flashing red and a motorist starts through it (after having stopped) as it's turning solid red. – supercat Jun 13 '16 at 15:37
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If you were to be issued a ticket in such circumstances, you would likely be able to bring up an affirmative defense that it was not possible for you to stop safely in the circumstances, an action most likely required by the statutes.

P.S. I've actually sat through a traffic trial where some guy in KW, Ontario, was defending against a red-light ticket he has gotten when passing a red light in the winter. I recall that his defense basically amounted to the fact that he would not have been able to stop safely in the circumstances (a requirement / exception of the statute), that the pavement was too slippery, other cars were nearby (maybe a car that followed, which would not have been able to stop had he stopped?), and that the light was likely still yellow when he crossed into the intersection (he took quite some time to cross-examine the cop). I recall that he was acquitted, but the guy did look quite exhausted from the trial!

  • Had I got a ticket, I would have appealed the fine, citing the facts. I'm just not sure I would be believed. I have a small amount of experience with traffic appeals and the Victorian courts and found that appeals officers and magistrates can be quite unpredictable in applying the principle of innocent until proven guilty. I wouldn't be surprised if the response was "That seems very unlikely" and either not finding evidence of an outage (I don't know if they get logged) or not bothering to check for one. – CJ Dennis Sep 1 '15 at 3:52
  • Unless things in Australia are much different to the situation in the States, I think you're confusing the non-moving violations, handled by officers, and the moving violations, generally handled by full prosecution and trial courts. – cnst Sep 1 '15 at 9:06
  • Speeding and parking fines are pretty much handled the same way. – CJ Dennis Sep 1 '15 at 13:38

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