A New Kind Of Left-Turn Signal — Flashing Yellow Arrows

A new kind of left turn signal is about to start showing up in more cities across Texas. The signal is a flashing yellow arrow. David Pitman explains why transportation officials are making the change.

For decades, it's been one of basic rules of the road.  A green arrow means you get a protected left turn.  A solid green light, without the arrow, means you have to yield to traffic.  Yet research shows that a solid green light confuses some drivers into thinking they have the right-of-way, never mind the oncoming traffic barreling toward them. TxDOT's Danny Perez says the state this year will formally adopt new federal standards replacing solid green lights in the left turn lane with flashing yellow arrows.

"And that lets the driver know that they have to proceed with caution, that they don't have the right-of-way.  The only time they would have the option to turn freely is with the green arrow."

Eric Knight is the director of operations for Safeway Driving Centers in Houston.  He says switching to flashing yellow arrows over solid green lights in the left turn lane is a smart move to make.

"Because when you see a green, you're thinking 'go.'  But then you realize, 'no, it's an unprotected left, I need to slow down and take it easy, here.'  But, when you see the yellow, it's more of a natural sign for that kind of maneuver."

Cities will install the new flashing yellow arrows over the next several years, as existing signals wear out.  The city of Sugarland has been using flashing yellow arrows at half a dozen of its protected turn intersections for about a year.  Officials say they're pleased with the results, and are expanding the program to include more intersections along Eldridge and elsewhere through the city.

Bio photo of David Pitman

David Pitman

Local Host, Morning Edition

The one question David hears most often isn't "What is it like to work for an NPR member station?" or "Have you ever met Terry Gross?" (he has)...