Should I stay or should I go? Yielding when you’re turning left could be a green light, could be a flashing yellow depending on where you are

Published: Aug. 2, 2021 at 6:11 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - On Sunday night just after 10 p.m. at Campbell and Walnut Lawn Springfield police froze the traffic signals at the exact time of an accident at the intersection where a woman turning left on a yellow caution light collided with two motorcyclists who were headed in the oncoming direction with a green light.

“One of them is in critical but stable condition and the other is stable with non-life threatening injuries,” Springfield Police Lt. Jeremy Anderson said of the motorcyclists conditions. “At this point in the investigation it does appear that the motorcycles had the right-of-way. They were northbound with a solid green light.”

Anderson said while the cause of the crash is still under investigation, signs point to a frequent cause of car-motorcycle accidents.

“It is my understanding that she did not see them when she was making her left-hand turn,” Anderson said.

As the lights remained in the same position they were at the time of the accident, it was also noticeable that this intersection has a yellow-arrow turn-light, one of 69 now installed in the Springfield area in the past six years to replace the old green yield-and-turn lights that we’d all come to know over the decades.

“The flashing yellow arrow actually became the federal standard from the federal highway administration for a yielding left-turn traffic signal in a left-turn lane back in 2009,” explained Springfield Traffic Engineer Tom Dancey. “MoDOT installed the first one here in 2015 at Kearney and Broadway and the city started adding more a year later. This all came after years of federal research where they evaluated different types of indications and settled on the flashing yellow arrow as the one the drivers understood the most.”

Even with educational efforts to get the word out, it still takes drivers a long time to get used to change, especially when the old lights and the new lights are both being used at the same time.

Yield but you can turn left on green....

Yield but you can turn left with the flashing yellow....

Why make the change?

“We can look at crash reports of intersections where you just have the circular green and a lot of times we’ll see statements like, ‘Both drivers said they had the green light’,” Dancey said of the old approach being phased out. “With the flashing yellow arrow we have the ability now that it goes (from green when you don’t have to yield) to yellow, then goes to red where we have a delay in there to allow opposing traffic to establish their right of way, and then it drops down to the flashing yellow arrow. That delay also helps pedestrians.”

The different lights are part of the evolution in our traffic system that also includes roundabouts and diverging-diamonds that are all put into place to try and make our roads safer.

The roundabouts, which were standardized in the United Kingdom starting in the mid 1960′s, became more widespread in America with the selling point that it would eliminate most accidents. But anyone who’s been in a roundabout with other cars has probably had a close call because it’s hard to figure out where drivers will be getting-on-and-off the vehicular merry-go-round.

“It hasn’t gotten rid of all accidents but it has reduced the more severe injury crashes,” Dancey pointed out. “The predominant ones in roundabouts are side-swipes.”

And that is a significant improvement over T-bone and head-on collisions.

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