Flashing beacons (sometimes called flashers or flashing lights) are frequently requested in the belief that they will slow down traffic. However, the real purpose of the flashers is to attract attention to unexpected hazards. Hopefully, the following discussion of flashing beacons will clarify the real effects of flashers, and what must be considered before flashers are installed.
What are the "right" conditions for flashing lights?
A flashing beacon is most effective as a warning of unexpected or hazardous conditions that are not readily visible to drivers. One of the more common locations where a flashing beacon is effective is at a stop sign controlled intersection located just beyond a curve, hidden from the view of approaching drivers.
That suggests there is a flip side, perhaps a situation where a flashing beacon should not be used?
Immediately after seeing a flasher, drivers must consistently see an unusual condition that requires special attention. The condition must be viewed as serious enough to justify having been alerted. For a traffic control device to be effective it must command the respect of motorists. If it seems arbitrary or unnecessary, drivers tend to ignore it.
Then there are actually problems associated with the installation of unnecessary flashing beacons?
When flashing beacons are used where not warranted they soon lose much of their effectiveness. After continually being alerted to a condition that does not appear to be truly unusual, research and experience has shown that drivers actually stop "seeing a flashing light. More specific, the beacons blend into the surroundings and lose their effectiveness. This can result in a disregard for all beacons, even those that are truly needed.
But if I see a safety problem, or an accident waiting to happen, there must be something we can do about it.
There are usually several options available to improve the safety of an intersection or roadway when a problem truly exists. It helps to approach the situation with an open mind and to work together toward solutions.
For example, say the City gets a request for a flashing beacon above a busy, unsignalized intersection crossed by children on their way to and from school. The traffic engineering investigation reveals that:
"Safe route to school" plans or crossing guard would be much more effective in this situation. If a flashing beacon was installed under these conditions, we can expect the following results:
If I think there is a problem, and a flashing beacon isn't the answer, what should I do?
Contact the City's Traffic Engineering Division. Ask the transportation engineers to look into the situation. Ask them about other forms of traffic control that might apply.
When requesting a flashing beacon, don't be surprised if the transportation engineer seems skeptical or difficult to convince. This skepticism exists for a good reason: it is essential to prove that there is a problem that can be solved by a flasher before one should be installed. It is of the utmost importance that flashing beacons be kept to a minimum if a high degree of respect is to be maintained for flashers that are truly needed.
If you have questions, requests or suggestions concerning traffic, please call the Traffic Engineering Division of Public Works at (714) 536-5431.
City of Huntington Beach
Public Works Department
2000 Main Street
Huntington Beach, CA
Phone: (714) 536-5431
Fax: (714) 374-1573