I recently came across the issue that I am going to describe, and it seems that nobody that I’ve mentioned it to really cares or has thought it through enough even consider it an issue. There was some good discussion on here about the flashing yellow arrows years ago, so maybe someone will agree with me or at least be aware of the new hazard that the flashing yellow arrow system creates. Here is the old thread: Flashing yellow arrows - #2 by Xebadaih
I like the idea of having a separate signal to indicate that vehicles should yield to turn left. It does some things like:
It helps fix the yellow or red trap problem, which I learned about. Basically, this situation arises in an intersection where the light stays green in one direction but turns red (after yellow of course) for the oncoming direction, usually so that traffic can be stopped to allow a green arrow on the oncoming side. The problem happens when a vehicle that is waiting to turn left pulls out in to the intersection on a green or yellow but doesn’t get a chance to turn. When the light turns red, they turn left expecting that the oncoming light has also turned red, but in this case it hasn’t. The driver is likely to make a dangerous left turn thinking that the oncoming traffic has a red. Having a separate left turn yield signal on the light tells the driver that they still have to yield to turn left. Seems like a good ideas except that they may have completely screwed this part up as I’ll explain.
The left turn yield signal can be on while the light is red, allowing left turns to happen on a red. Previously this could only happen on a green light, so it increases the capacity of the intersection.
Here are the problems with this new system:
They should have made it a flashing red arrow, not flashing yellow. If someone glances up and sees the arrow turn yellow, they may think it’s a solid arrow and they have the right of way to turn left for a couple of seconds until the arrow turns red.
This is the big issue that made me start this thread. Here in my city what they have done is they have set the lights up so that the left yellow arrow flashes with a green light, which is not necessary since everyone already knows you have to yield on a green to turn left. So now you have people potentially thinking they can have the right of way to turn left if they don’t realize it’s flashing. Well that isn’t so bad because it’s hard to miss that the yellow arrow is flashing. Well here is where the situation gets bad. After the unnecessary flashing left arrow with the green light, when the traffic light turns yellow, THEY HAVE MADE IT SO THAT THE LEFT ARROW CHANGES TO SOLID YELLOW FOR THE USUAL 3 SECOND OR SO YELLOW LIGHT PERIOD. That’s right, you get a solid yellow arrow for 3 seconds but you don’t actually have the right of way to turn left. It’s telling you that the flashing left yellow cycle is coming to and end. So now there are two different meanings for a solid left yellow arrow. I almost got hit changing in to the left turn lane quickly as I saw the traffic light turn yellow and the left arrow become solid yellow. After years of driving, I have been trained that a solid yellow arrow means that I have the right of way to turn left for a couple of seconds before the red. Little did I know that the vehicle that I turned left in front of did not have a red light.
It appears that they have created a new yellow trap probleb, but perhaps I am wrong, and they have it set so that when my arrow turns to solid yellow that the oncoming traffic has a red, and the car that I had a close call with was actually running a red light. Even if it’s this way it’s still dangerous since it means that the oncoming traffic light just turned red and a lot of people run red lights. Does anyone know the answer to this? I can’t see what color the lights on the oncoming traffic side are.
edit: Looks like I’m not the only one to discover this issue, and not the only one to have a bunch of people reply with off topic comments about flashing yellow arrows which has nothing to do with the issue. https://www.reddit.com/r/raleigh/comments/re5eho/blinking_yellow_arrows_are_dangerous/
Edit2: Here is a simple example of what happens:
A driver is heading to an intersection prepared to make a left turn. He sees the green light but does not see the flashing yellow arrow or does not know what it means. Just before he enters the intersection to turn left, he notices that the yellow left turn arrow becomes solid yellow. He assumes that the arrow was previously green and that he has the right of way to make a protected left turn for a couple of seconds until the arrow turns red. He actually doesn’t have a protected left turn and turns in to traffic that has a yellow light. This results in an accident where two vehicles were passing through the intersection on a yellow
and the traffic authority is at fault.