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Hurricane Irma: Broken traffic lights may prove as dangerous as storm

Floridians already have a reputation as really bad drivers. And that’s with functioning traffic lights.

Toss nonworking traffic signals into the mix and things really get interesting.

Palm Beach County motorists have been tested since Hurricane Irma barreled into the state last weekend, knocking out power to millions of residents and nearly as many stoplights.

That’s turned some of the county’s intersections — both big and small — into a game of chicken and has already resulted in a slew of crashes, according to local police agencies.

Boynton Beach police posted a photo on its Twitter account Tuesday morning showing a crash that took place Woolbright Road and Federal Highway where the traffic signals were not working. The good news is that no one was hurt. The bad news is that the crash could have been easily avoided with some common sense and patience.

“Traffic lights out here,” the tweet said, referring to the intersection. “If out, treat as 4-way stop. Drive with caution.”

Seems simple enough.

“The person who got there first should go first,” Florida Highway Patrol spokesman Sgt. Mark Wysocky said of intersections with either blinking or nonfunctioning signals. “If two vehicles get there at the same time, the one on the right has the right of way. That’s all there is to it.”

Or so one would think. Put into practice following an event as disruptive as Irma and all bets are off.

“I’ve seen people not even slow down and just blow right through it like it was a green light,” Jillian Price Rodriguez posted on Delray Raw, a website devoted to the city. “Frustrating!!!”

One Palm Beach Post staffer reported a chaotic situation Tuesday morning at Lantana Road and Congress Avenue, where there is a left-hand turning lane in each direction and multiple through lanes. It’s a slog even when the lights are working and disaster waiting to happen when they’re not.

In Delray Beach, police spokeswoman Dani Moschella said that Military Trail and Atlantic Avenue has been “an issue,” as have been other areas in the city where stoplights are either blinking or not working.

Moschella said Tuesday afternoon that there have been multiple crashes in the city, but didn’t have exact numbers because the department’s traffic unit has been going nonstop dealing with incidents on the roadways.

Boynton Beach police spokeswoman Stephanie Slater said officers worked crashes all day on Tuesday.

“Nothing major, but there have been a bunch,” Slater said.

Len Kaye, a driving instructor for the Safety Council of Palm Beach County, said many drivers are distracted, and not necessarily by the usual culprit — electronic gadgets.

“People are not focused on their driving skills,” Kaye said. “They’re focused on their house, taking the shutters down, cleaning up — things that are important to them.”

While some drivers may just not be paying attention, other motorists create problems by trying to cheat at intersections. At a malfunctioning traffic light on westbound Boynton Beach Boulevard just before the Interstate 95 interchange on Monday, drivers were seen repeatedly tailgating vehicles in train-like fashion in order to drive through the intersection without stopping.

Police fixed that probably by placing mobile stop signs at the intersection.

“People try to take advantage,” Kaye said. “Everybody is rushing to get nowhere fast.”

Those who fail to heed the right of way can be ticketed, police point out.

“ … It is not a rule, it is a law,” West Palm Beach resident Paul Ryan posted on the website Engage West Palm. “People that don’t know this law by now have no business holding a driver’s license.”

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