N.C.'s left-turn signals getting makeover

Posted November 9, 2010

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— For decades, left-turn signals have given drivers the green light on when to move safely across an intersection, but the North Carolina Department of Transportation says new signals being installed across the state will help motorists even more.

The new style features a flashing yellow arrow that, when active, lets drivers know they can turn left but that they must yield to oncoming traffic and pedestrians before doing so.

They were designed to make it easier for drivers to know what to do when making a left turn and are taking the place of the traditional signals.

Over the past five years, the DOT has installed the new signals at nearly 400 of intersections across the state, including one at the visitor’s entrance of WakeMed on New Bern Avenue.

Crews will install the new signals at four Zebulon intersections this month.

Some drivers say they think the lights could be confusing initially, because they would be unsure whether the flashing yellow is indicative of a problem with the signal.

Left-turn traffic signals changing Left-turn traffic signals changing Studies, however, have found that the lights have reduced left-turn crashes at state intersections by 37 percent and that they also keep traffic flowing more smoothly.

DOT engineer Greg Fuller says the new lights are a sign of the future.

“When you can get a device that improves safety and the efficiency, that's very promising,” he said.


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  • rc4nc Nov 10, 2010

    "Studies, however, have found that the lights have reduced left-turn crashes at state intersections by 37 percent and that they also keep traffic flowing more smoothly."

    Wow, and I thought that wasn't even a consideration of anyone at the DOT..

  • steelcity36 Nov 10, 2010

    I think it would make more sense if they had something about a "flashing yellow arrow" in the DMV Driver Handbook. They just install these lights and assume everybody knows how to use them. I understand the concept, but I have been at many intersections in Cary where people assume yellow arrow is a protected turn and cause accidents.

  • Alexia.1 Nov 10, 2010

    monkeyboy, I said that a flashing yellow light means one has the right of way, but should proceed with caution. This is true. We have never had flashing yellow lights on stop lights before, so do think about those. Where do we have flashing yellow lights? A few places: schools and fire stations where you need to pay a little more attention. More importantly, at some intersections where one direction has right of way and the other has a flashing red light. If you're out late at night, you'll also see that some of our stop lights will flash yellow after 11PM (or whenever) in one direction and flash red in the other.

    Point is that flashing yellow has meant proceed with caution and that the driver has the right of way.

    This new flashing yellow arrow means proceed with caution, but one cannot assume to have the right of way.

    Further, uniformity in the signs and lights across the country is helpful. We ought not try to be different.

  • packalum09 Nov 10, 2010

    I agree with sineonmine.

    However, there are some intersections where those turning left will see the light for the thru traffic flowing in the same direction as they are turn red and assume that the opposing traffic's light is turning red, too. They think that it's safe for them to go when sometimes the other direction still has a green light. This is where I think the flashing yellow light comes in handy.

  • Alexia.1 Nov 10, 2010

    sinenomine, I agree with your prediction entirely.

  • kbrianf Nov 10, 2010

    Ole Guy forgot to add that a FLASHING YELLOW light means proceed with caution. I encountered one of these lights for the first time recently and while it puzzled me for a split second, I quickly figured it out. Apparently the statistics indicate these things work as designed.

  • sinenomine Nov 10, 2010

    What was so difficult to understand about the old system? If you have a green ball and are turning left you have to yield to oncoming traffic. The flashing yellow arrow accomplishes nothing and adds an additional layer of confusion at already dangerous intersections.

    Traffic engineers claim the flashing yellow arrows reduce left turn accidents. I'm guessing the effect is temporary and related to people trying to figure out what the signal means before proceeding. Prediction - once drivers get used to the new signals accident rates will go right back up to the earlier levels if not higher.

  • clayt85 Nov 10, 2010

    Studies say: "Traffic flowed more efficiently and there were significantly fewer accidents". Commenters say: "The state is stupid and wasting money and there are going to be a lot of accidents".

    Do these people actually read the story, or are they just desperate for something to complain about?

  • 6079 SMITH W Nov 10, 2010

    Great idea, but........why not start out by teaching all those folks with a cashew instead of a brain that you can, indeed, turn on a green arrow. A green arrow does NOT mean: Gee, I think I'll sit here till it turns yellow, and then go.....and leave everyone behind me to sit through ANOTHER cycle. ;)

  • hihuwatlu Nov 10, 2010

    This may have worked better if they would educate the public before throwing these new lights up everywhere. The first one I saw, I thought because it was yellow, it was getting ready to change to red. I don't recall what color it changes to between yellow and red. I would think there should have to be some type of transition to warn people the light is getting ready to change to red. Especially when it's common to be in the middle of an intersection when waiting to make a left turn.