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Flashing Yellow Arrow increases driver safety

Brian Huibregtse, PE | with 0 Comments

Flashing Yellow Arrow increases driver safety

Have you noticed the increase in flashing yellow left arrow signals at intersections?

Motorists throughout the Upper Midwest―and throughout the nation― are now observing these signals at many busy intersections. The Flashing Yellow Arrow (FYA) replaces the solid green ball as an indication for left-turning vehicles to yield the right of way to oncoming traffic. It’s the latest development in traffic signals, and they are growing in popularity throughout Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.
Increases Safety and Efficiency
The FYA increases safety and efficiency. The Federal Highway Administration studied the flashing yellow arrow and determined that drivers do a better job of yielding to oncoming traffic when responding to the flashing yellow arrow rather than solid green ball. The FYA also increases traffic flow for left-turning vehicles at intersections by allowing them to yield to oncoming traffic whenever opposing traffic has the right of way. (See a flashing yellow arrow demonstration.)

The incorporation of the FYA is highly encouraged by many departments of transportation. Expect these signals to become more prevalent as current signals are replaced and new ones are installed.
Three-Head left turn signal
Motorists are familiar with the traditional, three-head left turn traffic signal with one green arrow, yellow arrow, and red arrow lamp (or head) per pole. The only time drivers can turn left is when they have the dedicated right of way indicated by a green arrow. This system works during heavy traffic periods, but when it’s quieter, this system can cause unnecessary delays for left-turning drivers and opposing traffic who have to wait for the intersection to clear.

Five-Head left turn signal
In a traditional five-head left-turn traffic signal, left-turning vehicles are allowed to proceed after yielding to oncoming traffic when the signal shows a solid green ball. However, preliminary studies indicate that drivers react more safely to flashing yellow arrows than solid green lights when yielding the right of way to opposing traffic.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, a national study found flashing yellow left-turn arrows are easier to understand than traditional yield-on-green indications, reducing crashes by 24%.

Benefits of Flashing Yellow Arrows
The flashing yellow arrow will save motorists time and frustration in the years ahead. It increases efficiency when motorists approach an intersection and they want to turn left, but they don’t have a green signal. The flashing yellow arrow will allow them to perform yielding left turns when the opposing traffic has the dedicated right of way. But most importantly, the flashing yellow arrow has been shown to be a safer design and one you should expect to see more frequently in the future.
Christian Lawien, engineer, of MSA’s Duluth office and James Watters, PE, of MSA’s St. Paul office have completed traffic signal training through the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Christian and James are members of MSA’s Traffic Community of Practice, a group of engineers in the traffic discipline focused on learning and advancing knowledge to employees and clients in order to help positively impact the lives of others.

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