Will Flashing Your High Beams Change A Traffic Light?

Coming into the radio station early in the morning, we see a lot of other drivers flashing their high beams at red lights, so we did some digging.

By nowproducerdave on August 16, 2018
(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

I see it every morning on my way into the offices here at Now 100.5. I and a few others have a duty to report in early to get morning shows started, coffee in the pots, and lights turned on (and bulbs replaced, I need to renegotiate). That means I’m in my car early with a few other cars on the road, and no sun in the sky.

Also, and I don’t know why this is, but the road I drive seems to give priority to the side streets. That means I hit no less than 6 red lights, sometimes more, during my commute. Even with no cars on those side streets, I always hit reds. But I notice that some people flash their high beams at red lights. The idea is that the traffic lights will “see” the flashes, and change the light to green. Just like a flashing light on the top of an ambulance, firetruck, or police cruiser will.

Let’s get a quick brief on how that technology works. Yes, a lot of the traffic lights in cities are equipped with sensors. Emergency vehicles carry a flashing light that traffic signals look for. When they detect an oncoming flash, it gives priority to that. However, those flashing lights are tuned to a specific frequency. Depending on the technology and programming, traffic light sensors are looking for about 14 flashes per second, according to this source. So unless you can flick your high-beams that many times, we’re out of luck, and have to wait at that red, glowing beacon of tardiness like everyone else. Sadface. Sure, one could mount that sort of strobe to their car. However, that would look goofy, and be illegal. So, you know, don’t do that.

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