During storms and for other reasons, traffic lights will sometimes malfunction and go into "flash mode" where one direction of traffic has a flashing red light and the other has a flashing yellow light. This seems to create confusion for many drivers as they mistakenly believe that this creates a situation such as a four-way stop, where all approaching vehicles must stop. This is not true and this mistake may lead one to pull out in front of a vehicle that is not required to stop. To understand how to handle this situation, let's first review what the law (KRS 189.338(5)) tells us.
(5) Whenever an illuminated flashing red or yellow light is used in a traffic signal or with a traffic sign it shall require obedience by vehicular traffic as follows:
(a) Flashing red (stop signal) - When a red lens is illuminated with rapid intermittent flashes, operators of vehicles shall stop at a clearly marked stop line but, if none, before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection or, if none, then at the point nearest the intersecting roadway where the operator has a view of approaching traffic on the intersecting roadway before entering it, and the right to proceed shall be subject to the rules applicable after making a stop at a stop sign; and
(b) Flashing yellow (caution signal) - When a yellow lens is illuminated with rapid intermittent flashes, operators of vehicles may proceed through the intersection or past such signal only with caution.
Here is how to handle this situation. If you pull up to the light and your lane has a flashing red light, after you have come to a complete stop, look at the lights that traffic crossing your path has. If they also have red lights, you may treat the intersection similar to a four-way stop, and those rules will apply. The flashing red lights are essentially stop signs. If the crossing traffic has yellow lights, they are not required to stop and they should be treated as if they have no stop sign or any other device to tell them to slow or stop. You must wait until traffic is clear and then you may proceed.
If you approach the intersection and you have a yellow light, you may proceed with caution. But, use a lot of caution. Many mistakenly believe they are at a four-way stop. Someone that arrived at the intersection before you may mistakenly think you are required to stop and will pull out in front of you, so be ready for that. Also, remember to be extra aware of each vehicle in the area and what they are doing. The change in the way the intersection is working will create confusion, so be ready. Slow down and proceed with caution.