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What vehicles are allowed flashing lights?

NOT EVERYBODY DRIVES ON PASEO: I was recently reminded of that by a reader, and so today’s column will be a wrapup of signal and flashing light issues not linked to the $93 million interchange rebuild.

WHO CAN FLASH WHAT IN N.M.? Jeff Hartzer emails “most states seem to be much more restrictive on citizen/business vehicles using ‘flashing’ lights similar to emergency response vehicles. In New Mexico, we see all sorts of lights on vehicles that, from a distance, one assumes is an ’emergency vehicle’, only to find out it is litter pickers, a tow truck, a street sweeper, etc. Is this problem worsening? What’s the deal with red-blue-yellow-white these days?”

Albuquerque Police Department officer Tasia Martinez says “only law enforcement can have forward-facing red and blue lights.”

But Jeff’s concern is not a new one. Back in 2009, after a similar reader concern, this column cited state statutes 66-7-6 (Authorized emergency vehicles) Section C and 66-3-835 (Special restrictions on lamp) Sections C and E.

“Only fire department vehicles, law enforcement agency vehicles, ambulances and school buses shall display flashing red lights visible from the front of the vehicle. All other vehicles authorized by the Motor Vehicle Code to display flashing lights visible from the front of the vehicle may use any other color of light that is visible.”

Those authorized vehicles include “emergency vehicles … snow-removal equipment and highway-marking equipment” as well as tow trucks that are removing or towing a vehicle.

WHY AM I A MOVING STOP LIGHT? Barbara White emails that routinely when she has a green signal, she can see a vehicle approaching the intersection “going to run the light (that) had IN NO WAY entered the intersection when my light turned green. Yep, I’m so tired of this and wish every light had cameras and issued tickets! My light is green, so I’m going to go and make that car stop and hopefully not run into me, so I proceed and yes, they stop and I go.

“How I wish the cars behind me had followed behind me and made that car back up and feel totally shamed, but they did not. … In my mind I can justify my driving actions because my light was green, but I don’t know if I’m correct. My husband seems to think there is a law that disallows any car from entering an intersection if the intersection is not clear. Can you please elucidate this for us?”

The Albuquerque Police Department can, and it looks like Barbara is right on two counts.

Officer Simon Drobik says “it is always a good idea to make sure the intersection is clear before you proceed through a green light after being stopped at a red light.”

According to Barbara, it was.

That said, Drobik explains “typically officers who witness (what Barbara describes) will pull the car over and give the driver a citation for running a red light/failure to yield to a red light.”

And she entered on green so she would not be the one cited.

CAN WE GO YELLOW-RED AFTER HOURS? Jane called recently to ask why traffic officials don’t put traffic signals to flash mode in off hours, say yellow for the major road like Paseo or Tramway, and red for the minor ones that intersect them?

Likely because most major signals here have loop detectors – sensors that can tell when traffic is waiting – and are programmed to go from set timing during rush hours to sensor mode in off hours. And because here, a flashing signal usually means a malfunctioning one.

David Mitchell, director of Operations and Maintenance for Bernalillo County, says “the instant default for a problem with any signal controller, be it a short or water damage or anything that it senses is not correct, (is to) flash all ways red, which will then be investigated and reset. If it were going to be a long-term issue or say for … construction … the signal could be programmed for mainline yield/yellow and side road red flash.

“There is only one intersection that is an all-way stop all the time,” Mitchell adds. “That is the New Mexico Department of Transportation’s intersection of Tramway Road with Tramway Boulevard, the road to the Tram and the farthest point north before entering the Sandia Pueblo. It has a new flashing stop sign that senses the speed of the traffic approaching the stop sign along Tramway Boulevard and flashes eight LED’s at the points of the stop sign if the approach speed is too fast.”

Assistant editorial page editor D’Val Westphal tackles commuter issues for the Metro area on Mondays and West Siders and Rio Ranchoans on Saturdays. Reach her at 823-3858;; P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, NM 87103; or go to to read previous columns and join in the conversation.