Flashing Yellow Coming To You?

Left turn on left only / 20091201.7D.00879.P1....

The way we turn left in Texas, or at least how we know when to turn, may be changing in Texas if the Federal Highway Administration get their wishes.

In signal-controlled intersection with dedicated left-turn lights, we’re used to the following, or some similar variation:

RED “ball”: Stop.
YELLOW “ball”: Light is changing to red. Exercise caution and stop if safe to do so.
GREEN “ball”: Left-turn allowed after yielding to upcoming traffic
YELLOW arrow: Protected left-turn ending.
GREEN arrow:  Protected left-turn.

The FHA has adopted a recommendation to change this and Arlington, TX may be the first in Texas to do so if the Texas Transportation Commission approves it later this year. The idea is that the green ball is confusing. We can go, but after exercising caution. Doesn’t green mean go though?

The new lights would work something like this:
RED — Stop
Solid YELLOW — Light signal is changing to either unprotected or red.
Flashing YELLOW — Left-turn allowed, not protected (i.e. the green ball)
GREEN Arrow — Left-turn protected.

An example of this was filmed and put online by the Missouri Department of Transportation

Besides the initial confusion and retraining time, do you think this makes more sense? A yellow flashing ball at an intersection means proceed with caution but generally practiced as a clear-to-proceed (with caution) green light. A yellow flashing arrow isn’t a clear-to-proceed (with caution) green arrow. Would a flashing red arrow make more sense or do we need retraining on what yellow means, arrow or otherwise?

According to the FHWA Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), the document that helps ensure that all traffic control devices in the U.S. mean the same thing, both a flashing yellow and a flashing red arrow are allowed. A flashing yellow arrows allows turn without stopping, while a flashing red requires a stop (like a flashing red light would). I’ve never seen a flashing red arrow used, except when signals are malfunctioning or timed to revert to a stop-sign-like control at very slow times of the day (like late at night).







2 responses to “Flashing Yellow Coming To You?

  1. MidiMagic Avatar

    The flashing yellow ball has always meant to yield to oncoming traffic if you are turning. The flashing yellow arrow means the same thing.

  2. kraft Avatar

    Really, the only signal or situation that would allow a left-turn without yielding is a signal with a green arrow.

    A flashing yellow ball, for those going straight, is practiced as a green. A solid yellow arrow, is practiced, as an either go quick to finish the turn or stop. A flashing yellow arrow would be a slight shift in thinking and not as obvious as, I think, proponents believe.

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