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New Traffic Signal Implemented in Response to Increased Car Accidents

More streets across the country will soon be privy to a new style of traffic signal. Drivers in Michigan, Nevada, and various parts of California and Ohio are already flooding Internet search engines with variations of one question, “What does new flashing yellow arrow mean?” The new variation on the left turn signal, which originated in Reno, Nevada, means that left turns are permitted as long as drivers yield to oncoming traffic and pedestrians. The hope, and apparently the impact, is to decrease the number of auto accidents at intersections thereby greatly reducing the number of injuries.

The traditional steady yellow arrow and the green arrow retain their original meanings. The yellow continues to indicate that motorists should be prepared to stop or complete their turns if already in the intersection. The green arrow, of course, gives turning motorists the right of way.

The change comes as regulators explored methods to promote safety and efficiency – and decrease the number of car accidents that happen as a result of the current signal system. USA Today reports that in Kentucky there has already been about a 30% reduction in left-turn collisions, although some deem it’s early to thoroughly evaluate success. Undoubtedly, the new signal may help address what some call the “yellow trap condition.” Personal injury lawyers have known about this trap for years. The trap occurs whenthe driver waiting to turn left is lead into the intersection when it may actually be unsafe to do so. During the signal change from "permissive" movements in both directions to a "protected" movement in one direction, a yellow trap occurs when the left-turning driver’s permissive left-turn is ending. It is said that the flashing yellow arrow eliminates the yellow trap without requiring louvers (slats over the light that prevent it from being seen until the driver is close to the first signal in the set) or other visibility-limiting devices.

A study conducted by the Federal Highway Administration, found that the new signals:

  • help to prevent auto accidents;
  • move more traffic through an intersection;
  • and provide additional traffic management flexibility;
  • keeps traffic moving and
  • reduces gasoline usage as well.

Additional benefits, as determined by officials in Colorado, include:

  • Enables the left-turn control to be varied during the day.
  • Eliminates motorist confusion as to the meaning of the circular green light (this is occasionally mistaken as a protected left turn), and the simultaneous circular red light and green arrow (some motorists stop).
  • Can be used in all intersection and signal configurations.
  • Requires no supplemental signing.
  • Eliminates the "left-turn yellow trap" (see demo below) and eliminates the need for a red arrow to avoid the left-turn trap.
  • Provides more opportunities for drivers to turn left.
  • Does not require optical shielding or precise placement – heads are placed wherever protected left turn heads are normally placed.
  • Can also be used for right turns.

Spokeswoman for the Federal Highway Administration estimates that the lights have already been installed at more than 1,000 intersections and the number is rising. Soon they will be required at all intersections nationwide.

Check out this YouTube video explaining the change.