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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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The flashing yellow arrow

Flashing yellow arrows began appearing at certain intersections a few years ago.  Initially, I was uncertain of their intent.  Did it simply mean, as a typical yellow light indicates, that a red-light indication was imminent? If so, it might induce drivers to rush through that left turn before being halted by a red light.

Hopefully, few drivers subscribed to that possible conclusion, since the flashing yellow arrow doesn’t mean that you have a right-of-way to turn left.  Instead, the flashing arrow means that you can make the left turn only with caution and an absence of oncoming traffic which you must yield to that still has a green light.  Depending on traffic, turning “blindly” left upon a flashing yellow arrow indication could easily induce mayhem.

A recent article by Doug Dahl in the Bellingham Herald reminded me of the ambiguity that could potentially confuse some drivers.  Younger drivers have likely been schooled about flashing yellow arrows during their driver education studies, but no such light configurations existed when older drivers were learning.

As roundabouts began appearing in Washington, they were accompanied by public information campaigns detailing their use through ads, flyers and websites.  Nevertheless, I still see major confusion as drivers approach, enter and drive through them.

Since there has been no information campaign about flashing yellow arrows, many drivers may still be uncertain of expected behavior at intersections displaying them.

Again, a flashing yellow arrow does not mean that you should make a hasty left turn before the light changes to red.  Instead, unlike a solid yellow light which warns you that the red light is forthcoming, the flashing yellow is a cautionary reminder, allowing you turn left only when there is a break in oncoming traffic.  That traffic coming at you still has a green light, and you can safely proceed only when there are none of those vehicles close enough to the intersection to pose a threat.  You only have the total right of way for your left turn when you are faced with a solid green arrow.

One might ponder why we needed a flashing yellow turn light, since even with a solid green light, drivers are supposed to yield to oncoming traffic before making a left turn.  The answer is that with standard traffic control too many drivers were thinking “green means go” and turned unadvisedly into oncoming traffic.  Studies have shown that, overall, the flashing yellow light has reduced crashes resulting from left-turning drivers failing to yield to oncoming vehicles.

So, when encountering a flashing yellow arrow, realize that you must verify a space within oncoming traffic to safely negotiate your left turn.  The amount of time you have to make that turn is variable, and in most cases the flashing yellow arrow will become a solid yellow arrow a few seconds before it changes to a solid red arrow, which is not ambiguous.  A solid red arrow does not allow a left turn when traffic is clear — one must wait for a flashing yellow or solid green arrow to legally proceed.

While not generally popular with the populace, testing or refresher courses accompanying license renewal might be warranted.  That way, drivers would have a forced source of information to draw from regarding newer things like roundabouts, left-turn arrows and changes in rules of the road (like the new eDUI ticket).  It pays to know!

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at precisiondriving@spokesman.com.

Flashing yellow arrows began appearing at certain intersections a few years ago.  Initially, I was uncertain of their intent.  Did it simply mean, as a typical yellow light indicates, that a red-light indication was imminent? If so, it might induce drivers to rush through that left turn before being halted by a red light.

Hopefully, few drivers subscribed to that possible conclusion, since the flashing yellow arrow doesn’t mean that you have a right-of-way to turn left.  Instead, the flashing arrow means that you can make the left turn only with caution and an absence of oncoming traffic which you must yield to that still has a green light.  Depending on traffic, turning “blindly” left upon a flashing yellow arrow indication could easily induce mayhem.

A recent article by Doug Dahl in the Bellingham Herald reminded me of the ambiguity that could potentially confuse some drivers.  Younger drivers have likely been schooled about flashing yellow arrows during their driver education studies, but no such light configurations existed when older drivers were learning.

As roundabouts began appearing in Washington, they were accompanied by public information campaigns detailing their use through ads, flyers and websites.  Nevertheless, I still see major confusion as drivers approach, enter and drive through them.

Since there has been no information campaign about flashing yellow arrows, many drivers may still be uncertain of expected behavior at intersections displaying them.

Again, a flashing yellow arrow does not mean that you should make a hasty left turn before the light changes to red.  Instead, unlike a solid yellow light which warns you that the red light is forthcoming, the flashing yellow is a cautionary reminder, allowing you turn left only when there is a break in oncoming traffic.  That traffic coming at you still has a green light, and you can safely proceed only when there are none of those vehicles close enough to the intersection to pose a threat.  You only have the total right of way for your left turn when you are faced with a solid green arrow.

One might ponder why we needed a flashing yellow turn light, since even with a solid green light, drivers are supposed to yield to oncoming traffic before making a left turn.  The answer is that with standard traffic control too many drivers were thinking “green means go” and turned unadvisedly into oncoming traffic.  Studies have shown that, overall, the flashing yellow light has reduced crashes resulting from left-turning drivers failing to yield to oncoming vehicles.

So, when encountering a flashing yellow arrow, realize that you must verify a space within oncoming traffic to safely negotiate your left turn.  The amount of time you have to make that turn is variable, and in most cases the flashing yellow arrow will become a solid yellow arrow a few seconds before it changes to a solid red arrow, which is not ambiguous.  A solid red arrow does not allow a left turn when traffic is clear — one must wait for a flashing yellow or solid green arrow to legally proceed.

While not generally popular with the populace, testing or refresher courses accompanying license renewal might be warranted.  That way, drivers would have a forced source of information to draw from regarding newer things like roundabouts, left-turn arrows and changes in rules of the road (like the new eDUI ticket).  It pays to know!

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at precisiondriving@spokesman.com.v

Flashing yellow arrows began appearing at certain intersections a few years ago.  Initially, I was uncertain of their intent.  Did it simply mean, as a typical yellow light indicates, that a red-light indication was imminent? If so, it might induce drivers to rush through that left turn before being halted by a red light.

Hopefully, few drivers subscribed to that possible conclusion, since the flashing yellow arrow doesn’t mean that you have a right-of-way to turn left.  Instead, the flashing arrow means that you can make the left turn only with caution and an absence of oncoming traffic which you must yield to that still has a green light.  Depending on traffic, turning “blindly” left upon a flashing yellow arrow indication could easily induce mayhem.

A recent article by Doug Dahl in the Bellingham Herald reminded me of the ambiguity that could potentially confuse some drivers.  Younger drivers have likely been schooled about flashing yellow arrows during their driver education studies, but no such light configurations existed when older drivers were learning.

As roundabouts began appearing in Washington, they were accompanied by public information campaigns detailing their use through ads, flyers and websites.  Nevertheless, I still see major confusion as drivers approach, enter and drive through them.

Since there has been no information campaign about flashing yellow arrows, many drivers may still be uncertain of expected behavior at intersections displaying them.

Again, a flashing yellow arrow does not mean that you should make a hasty left turn before the light changes to red.  Instead, unlike a solid yellow light which warns you that the red light is forthcoming, the flashing yellow is a cautionary reminder, allowing you turn left only when there is a break in oncoming traffic.  That traffic coming at you still has a green light, and you can safely proceed only when there are none of those vehicles close enough to the intersection to pose a threat.  You only have the total right of way for your left turn when you are faced with a solid green arrow.

One might ponder why we needed a flashing yellow turn light, since even with a solid green light, drivers are supposed to yield to oncoming traffic before making a left turn.  The answer is that with standard traffic control too many drivers were thinking “green means go” and turned unadvisedly into oncoming traffic.  Studies have shown that, overall, the flashing yellow light has reduced crashes resulting from left-turning drivers failing to yield to oncoming vehicles.

So, when encountering a flashing yellow arrow, realize that you must verify a space within oncoming traffic to safely negotiate your left turn.  The amount of time you have to make that turn is variable, and in most cases the flashing yellow arrow will become a solid yellow arrow a few seconds before it changes to a solid red arrow, which is not ambiguous.  A solid red arrow does not allow a left turn when traffic is clear — one must wait for a flashing yellow or solid green arrow to legally proceed.

While not generally popular with the populace, testing or refresher courses accompanying license renewal might be warranted.  That way, drivers would have a forced source of information to draw from regarding newer things like roundabouts, left-turn arrows and changes in rules of the road (like the new eDUI ticket).  It pays to know!

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at precisiondriving@spokesman.com.