The flashing yellow arrow

News to us: There's such a thing as a flashing yellow arrow traffic light.

The state Department of Transportation has been installing them around state in recent years, including a handful here in the Capital Region. Press release blurbage on what the signals mean:

Traffic signals with a flashing yellow arrow phase are used at intersections where there is an exclusive right- or left-turn lane with a protected green arrow, which allows motorists to turn while oncoming traffic is stopped. The signal changes from a green arrow to a solid yellow arrow, indicating that a red signal is coming and turning motorists should not enter the intersection. A red arrow is then displayed, allowing traffic from the oncoming direction to begin proceeding through the intersection. After opposing traffic gets the green phase, the turn arrow begins flashing yellow, indicating that turning vehicles must yield to oncoming traffic but may proceed when there is a safe gap in traffic. The signal then turns returns to a solid yellow arrow and then to a red arrow as traffic on the other road is allowed to proceed through the intersection.
Pedestrians crossing the road always have the right-of-way over turning vehicles.

So, boiled down, it's like a yield sign for traffic light arrows. See also this explainer image.

The flashing yellow arrow is a relatively new type of signal that's been spreading around the country. There's apparently research that indicates the signals are easier for people to understand and lead to safer intersections.


They installed one of these in Lake George (going south on Rte. 9, in front of the Howard Johnson's) as part of the upgrade of that stretch going into the village. It took me a few times to figure out what the heck it meant, but it definitely seemed to clear the turn lane and keep traffic moving.

So the flashing yellow turn left arrow means the same thing as having a regular green light with no arrow at all - i.e., yield to oncoming traffic. Seems confusing to create an unnecessary signal like this, but I admittedly haven't studied the research.

Jon, I believe that the big idea is to have a permitted left turn without green light for straight through traffic. A solid green light cannot get you one without the other.

The flashing yellow arrow tells drivers to use caution when turning. It is the same meaning as a green signal, however, studies have shown that some drivers did not clearly understand that they should yield to opposing traffic.

The signal also gives benefit to traffic as the signal can go from permissive mode (flashing yellow arrow) to protected mode (red arrow, turns only allowed on green arrow) during the day. This way, the signal can allow permissive turns when traffic is low, but restrict turning when traffic is heavy.

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