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How many accidents occur at intersections with flashing yellow left-turn arrows?

Brian Freskos

There is a body of research that suggests the flashing yellow arrow displays, also known as the four-section signal heads, are more easily understood by drivers. As a result, there is a trend statewide toward using the four-section signal heads in place of the five-section head, which has a solid red, yellow and green light as well as a yellow and green left-turn arrow, said Buddy Murr, state signals engineer for the N.C. Department of Transportation.

Data compiled by the N.C. DOT in 2009 and 2010 showed a 37 percent drop in left-turn related crashes at intersections where the five-section head was replaced by the four-section head. Murr said traffic officials believe that when drivers see the flashing yellow arrow of the four-section head they are more apt to slow down and cautiously negotiate the intersection than when they see the solid green light on the five-section head (also known as the doghouse head). One of the problems with the five-section head, Murr said, is that some drivers mistakenly think the solid green light gives them the right-of-way to turn left.

National studies have shown similar findings, prompting the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to recommend the four-section head in place of the five-section one.

In Wilmington, there are 22 intersections with a flashing yellow arrow display:

  • Oleander Drive and Greenville Loop Road.
  • South College Road and Shipyard Boulevard/Long Leaf Hills.
  • Market Street and Middle Sound Loop Road.
  • College Road at Kmart/Outlet Mall.
  • Market Street at College Road southbound ramp (Gingerwood).
  • Eastwood Road and Cardinal Drive.
  • Market Street and New Centre Drive.
  • South College Road and Cascade/Long Leaf Shopping Center.
  • South College Road and Holly Tree Road.
  • South College Road and Pine Valley Drive.
  • Carolina Beach Road and Antoinette Drive.
  • South College Road at Hurst/Hoggard.
  • Eastwood Road and Racine Drive.
  • Carolina Beach Road and Service Road/Myrtle Grove Fire Station.
  • Carolina Beach Road and Silver Lake Road.
  • Military Cutoff Road and Gordon Road.
  • South College Road and Bragg Drive.
  • Military Cutoff Road and Fresco Drive/Destiny Way.
  • Carolina Beach Road at Myrtle Grove Superstreet North U-Turn.
  • Carolina Beach Road at Myrtle Grove Superstreet South U-Turn.
  • Carolina Beach Road and Myrtle Gardens Drive.
  • South College Road and Pinecliff Drive/Cape Fear Academy.
  • Of those intersections, a little less than half made the Wilmington Police Department’s Top 100 intersections with the most traffic accidents from Jan. 1, 2006, to Aug. 31, 2011.

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    5 Responses to “ How many accidents occur at intersections with flashing yellow left-turn arrows?”

    1. On September 7, 2011 at 4:42 pm Cathy Graham wrote:

      I have lived here for over three years ,as soon as I saw the flashing light I just said why ???? The lights with a left turn works the best . Gordon Road and Collage Road should have both left turn going the same time for school , where right stops completely ! And Laney needs traffic person moving the traffic in and out buses should go out a back road or new road !

    2. On September 8, 2011 at 6:34 am anon wrote:

      You sound very confident based on your experience driving, but consider a new driver with zero experience…the major issue with the old style is while the green arrow is on, so is the red at the top. You probably have just overlooked it since you are used to it. To a new driver, green arrow means go, but red means stop…so which is it. This confusion is eliminated with the flashing arrow style, no more red&green at the same time.

    3. On September 8, 2011 at 9:12 pm no name wrote:

      Why not just eliminate the red light with the green arrow all together and also eliminate the yellow flashing turn signal. What ever happened to plain old solid colors to tell us when to stop and go safely? I have found that when you have a yellow flashing turn signal people take chances on turning at the intersection. Or they have a blind spot and don’t see the oncoming traffic. I have seen two accidents that could have been prevented because of these flashing turn signals. I have been told just wait and turn when you feel it is safe, and I have no problem with that, but what about when I am going straight and someone takes the chance and turns in front of me and I hit them head on? And if new drivers have not learned how to drive properly (when to turn) then maybe we should make it mandatory to have everyone take classes that wants a license, no matter what the age, have longer permit periods and give them harder driving tests.

    4. On September 10, 2011 at 5:20 am anon wrote:

      Here, Here! I’m all for harder driving tests…maybe it’ll get/keep some of the folks that don’t need to be driving off the road. I can’t say I’ve ever heard of someone that passed the written test but failed the driving test. The test needs to be more than driving around the block and parking. Poor driver education and testing are hitting pretty close to the root of why the accident rate here is so high.

      Also, I think there needs to be a hard stance from enforcement and the judicial system on aggressive driving. I’ve seen other cities run anti-aggressive driving campaigns. A few tickets that hurt the wallet would probably help straighten out some of these drivers.

      The flashing yellow arrow is the same as the green…you can turn when it is safe. It only emphasizes you are in a left turn lane, turning left AND there are vehicles coming at you. Green on the other hand, just means go. I think the flashing yellow arrow is more informative…just my two cents.

    5. On September 19, 2011 at 12:20 pm Larry Robinson wrote:

      The differerence is not the meaning the left turning driver gets, but the meaning given to drivers who are NOT turning left.

      The circular green also releases straight ahead traffic, causing yellow-trap hazards. The flashing yellow arrow does not release straight ahead traffic, so it avoids the hazard.

      This innovation allows progressed green lights on more two-way streets. The lights turn green as you come to them.

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