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Local drivers concerned SCE power shutoffs could darken traffic signals

As power companies statewide consider de-energizing lines amid heightened wildfire danger, Southern California Edison could cut power locally to areas like Desert Hot Springs and North Palm Springs.

Lights would go out in homes and potentially in traffic signals, worrying drivers that dangerous stretches of road could be left in the dark.

Meagan McKenney commutes to work in Desert Hot Springs five days a week, traveling down Palm Drive, a main thoroughfare for the city she says is known for unsafe driving.

“The traffic on Palm, already as it is, is very fast. Nobody obeys the speed limits,” McKenney said. “With everything working on a normal basis, there’s more accidents on that road than anywhere else I’ve heard in the valley.”

With the looming possibility SCE could shut off the lights, she’s concerned about safety on the roads.

“I believe if those traffic signals were to go out, there would definitely be a major concern for accidents – lots of accidents,” McKenney said.

In light of that concern, CalTrans officials are warning drivers to be ready. They say if the power is shut off, many traffic signals are equipped with battery backups that would activate flashing red lights.

“The batteries last anywhere from 4 to 6 to 8 hours, depending on how new those batteries are,” said Don Anderson, deputy division chief of maintenance and technical operations. “When those batteries die out, the signals go black.”

In those instances, drivers are supposed to come to a full stop. But as police warn, it just takes one distracted driver to cause a collision.

“On a uncontrolled intersection, an intersection where the power’s out, you need to make sure that you clear all directions,” said California Highway Patrol Officer Matt Lyman.

That’s a major concern for drivers in Desert Hot Springs, especially at night.

“It would be terrible,” McKenney said. “Oh my goodness, there would be numerous accidents if nobody could see, if there was no light.”

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