What is the Law at a Flashing Yellow Arrow?
What does the blinking yellow arrow at an intersection mean and why is it popping up all of a sudden? You may have encountered the country’s newest traffic signal update and not known how to proceed. Turns out, you wouldn't be the only one. This update has been creeping up, and growing quickly, and the driver response is mixed.
So, what is the law when a driver is at a flashing yellow arrow light? How does a driver proceed through this kind of intersection? Also, whose bright idea was it to go and change left turns when everybody is used to the old system?
What It Is
In 2011, it was federally adopted as the standard for permissive left turn signals but it has taken some time for these new lights to be implemented. Since then, states all over the country have been making the switch and trying to educate drivers about the process of a left turn yield on flashing yellow arrow. This new update to yielding at a left turn has some drivers confused.
The idea is that every light on the traffic signal is an arrow and drivers can use the color of the arrow to determine when it is safe or permissible to make their left turn.
How does the left turn yield on flashing yellow arrow work?
- Green Arrow - You have a protected left turn. You do not need to yield to oncoming traffic and you have the right of way if you are making a left turn.
- Blinking Yellow Arrow - You may turn if it is permissible. Oncoming traffic has the right of way, so you will yield to them.
- Solid Yellow Arrow - The signal is about to turn red and oncoming traffic still has the right of way. If you are not already inside the intersection, do not enter. If you are in the intersection, you may complete your turn.
- Red Arrow - Stop. You may not enter the intersection. If you are in the intersection already, you have just run a red light.
Why It Is
The Texas Department of Transportation claims that these yellow arrows should be easier to understand for drivers. Research shows that they are more effective than the green circle because green is associated with “go” while yellow is a color of “caution”. Additionally, the green circles are the same for “left turn yield” and thru traffic to proceed straight. Using these green circles in both instances is not necessary or convenient.
Ideally, drivers will take less time to determine that their turn is permitted because the arrow is easier to discern that the green ball accompanied by a sign. This quick movement of traffic was one of the main selling points in the yellow for green swap. Some of the perks of this are environmental, according to the supporting research. When traffic moves, emissions are reduced making for cleaner air.
This change in what the light color indicates is unfortunate for those of us that have trained ourselves to speed at a yellow light to try to make it through the intersection before the light turns red. Gradually, all of Texas is replacing the green circular light that has traditionally let drivers know that their left turn is unprotected.
As this more convenient alternative to the green ball becomes more common, intersections that might not otherwise have a “left turn yield” option are changing over as well. This means an overall increase in the number of intersections that allow for a left turn while the oncoming traffic has a green light and the right of way.
Why It Matters
Oregon was one of the first and fastest on the front lines of the blinking yellow arrow. This means they have the most data about their effects and consequences. The Oregonian covered an in-depth simulation study that evaluated driver reactions. The results showed the dark side of the efficient new flashers.
Vulnerable roadway users such as cyclists and pedestrians were at a high risk because of the changes. One intersection even had to remove the new flashing yellow arrow signal because of a large increase of vehicle crashes.
Making turns is already dangerous and intersections can be deadly and terrifying. The best defense against the traffic light change is to educate drivers about their implementation and make sure that the rules are clear.
Even with education and press campaigns, drivers will be responsible for their actions. Most of these blinking yellow arrow intersections in Texas also feature a sign that explains their function. The sign is normally enough to get a road user’s attention but if they’re in a hurry to beat a yellow light, they might miss the instructions all together.
As we’ve seen, collisions have already been reported as a result of the change. This could be attributed to the recent implementation. It may be that drivers just aren’t used to it and will become more obedient to them once they become more common. Only time will tell.