What do you do at a flashing red arrow?

You make a left-turn after yielding to oncoming traffic. The confusion posed by the combination of three features that often send contradictory messages – a flashing light that usually signals proceed with caution, a red light that usually signals stop, and an arrow that signals go in this particular direction only – is the reason why at least six states (North Carolina, Minnesota, Colorado, Missouri, Michigan, and Oregon) have , over the last two years, experimented with a piece of choice architecture – the flashing yellow light – in place of the flashing red arrow.

This year, Michigan has decided to replace all of its flashing red lights with flashing yellows saying the new lights prevent more crashes, move traffic through an intersection faster, and give traffic engineers more options for handling traffic volumes. Michigan says you should expect to see more of these signals across the country in the future. You can see the demo for one here. Or you can watch the grainy video below.

The flashing yellow is meant to fix something called the “yellow trap” (watch it here), where drivers in one direction face a yellow, while drivers in others have a green. The yellow light drivers get impatient (thinking a red light is imminent and assuming the other side has the same set of lights), and rush through the intersection, causing an accident.

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5 Responses to “What do you do at a flashing red arrow?”

  1. Pete W Says:

    Fullerton, California has had flashing yellow arrows for awhile. At first I found them confusing, but a newspaper article clarified that it was “left on yield.” A feature like this should be adopted nationally and communicated via mass media.

  2. Peter Kaplan Says:

    Actually the biggest problem with Michigan traffic lights, at least in terms of traffic flow, is the solid red left turn light. In most states, the left turn light (where there is one at all) stays green after the green arrow disappears, signaling that a left turn remains permissible but is no longer guarded. (Presumably this solid green will become flashing yellow in the near future across the country.) However, in many parts of Michigan, left turns are permitted SOLELY during the green arrow, which is quickly followed by a solid red lasting the duration of the cycle. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve just had to sit there watching the cycle go around, knowing that in any other state I’d be on my way via an unguarded but permitted left turn.

  3. Jim Osborn Says:

    Burbank California has solid red arrows to prevent a left turn. At one intersection, Buena Vista and San Fernando Rd, there is a reairoad crossing 25 feet to the north. if a train is coming, this arrow stays red until the train gets very close. Then, it begins to flash red. This led to a grade crossing collision on Jan 6, 2003. The NTSB report said to keep the light solid. Sadly, the light blinks as the train gets close as I write this.

    Peter makes some good points.
    When I moved to Florida, I was so pleased to see the end of a solid red left turn when it was green to go straight. Michigan’s blinking red is better than California’s solid red, but inferior to the eastern states as Peter Kaplan mentions.

  4. g s Says:

    I am from Canada & winter in Florida. In Ft. Lauderdale there are some left turn lanes with flashing red arrows. Confusing especially when a sherriff’s deputy couldn’t answer whether U could turn on same when safe to do so. Bottom line is I turn when safe to do so.

  5. bobby Says:

    at a stop light when a trai is stopping traffic and i have a blinking red arrow can i proceed after stopping at the light

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