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After Irma: Hundreds of out traffic lights in Tampa Bay prompt close-calls, accidents and frustrated drivers

Irma may have left town, but along with the fallen trees and damaged structures she left behind hundreds of dysfunctional traffic lights that are frustrating drivers across Tampa Bay.

As of Tuesday morning, about 300 traffic lights were estimated to be out in Pinellas County, according to the Sheriff's Office. Estimates from every county were not available, but the power companies handling the outages have said they've made restoring traffic signals a top priority.

Deputies and police across the area have also been directing traffic in person. But close-calls and accidents prompted local law enforcement to remind drivers that, by law, they need to treat the powerless lights as four-way stops.

"Come to a complete stop and make eye contact with other drivers at an intersection," said Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. Steve Gaskins. "Be patient. A lot of people have a hard time remembering what the rules of the road are when there isn't someone or something to tell them what to do."

And don't just roll through behind the motorist in front of you. The stop he or she makes doesn't count as your stop.

Several drivers have lamented on social media that many people don't seem to remember that lesson from driver's ed.

Almost died like twice because Tampa drivers ain't know how to act since traffic lights aren't on.

— katherine ἳ (@kduran_45) September 11, 2017


Late Tuesday morning at least three cars got into an accident at the U.S. 41 and Willow Bend in Land O' Lakes. The intersection had a flashing light because of Pasco County's power outages.

Gaskins said motorists failing to follow the law is one of the biggest issues the highway patrol is dealing with after Irma knocked out power for many parts of the state. Accidents caused by scofflaws distracts from efforts to get the state back to normal, he said.

"Every time someone crashes at an intersection like that, it means another officer who has to be pulled away from recovery efforts to deal with an accident," Gaskins said.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said it wasn't sure how many signals the county had out, but that it was more than 100. The City of Tampa assured its drivers crews were working to restore power "as soon as possible" to its traffic lights over Twitter after receiving complaints from drivers.

St. Petersburg police estimated the city had 115 intersections without power on Monday, but that number had dropped down to 77 by Tuesday. St. Petersburg police said they were placing 100 portable stop signs and 24 generators to power lights around the city to help ease traffic woes. They also asked residents to move tree limbs behind the curb so they're not impeding drivers and can be picked up over the next several days.

Drivers should treat the out traffic lights and flashing red traffic lights as a stop sign. Drivers should slow down when approaching a yellow traffic light or flashing yellow light and move over one lane or slow down if they're near an emergency or utility vehicle.

Failing to stop at a non-working traffic light can result in a citation.

"It is a violation, and you will be looking at a ticket if we catch you," Gaskins said.

Despite running into the out lights, early morning commuters said they noticed less traffic than usual across the bridges on Tuesday. Irma shut down every bridge in the Tampa Bay area but all have since been reopened.

Before you head out for your next drive, check out our live blog for the latest traffic updates and road conditions across Tampa Bay.

Contact Sara DiNatale at sdinatale@tampabay.com. Contact Jonathan Capriel at jcapriel@tampabay.com.

After Irma: Hundreds of out traffic lights in Tampa Bay prompt close-calls, accidents and frustrated drivers 09/12/17 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 12, 2017 5:28pm]
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