Driver wants details of yellow left turn lights

The in basket: Allen Gibbard writes, “Hoping you can help with lawful traffic signal responses.  Today while approaching an intersection, the main traffic signal was red, but the left-turn arrow (where I wanted to go) that had been flashing turned to solid yellow.  I interpreted that to mean I was free to turn left if I could complete the maneuver safely.

“As I entered the intersection on the solid yellow arrow, the arrow turned red.  I accelerated a bit to clear the intersection as fast as possible without incident.

“Here’s my question: does a blinking yellow left-turn arrow mean proceed with caution and a solid yellow left-turn arrow mean it will be changing to red soon so if you’re unsure if you can clear the intersection quickly, do not enter?  Like the yellow light within the green/yellow/red cycle of a main traffic signal light?

Guidance please!”

The out basket: My answer to Allen: A solid yellow left-turn arrow tells the driver the light is about to turn red and if he or she can’t make it past the white stop bar on the pavement before it does, he’ll be committing an infraction – and possibly be responsible for a collision. If it was green prior to going solid, it also is the end of a protected left-turn cycle during which oncoming traffic has a red light.

A yellow flashing left turn provides a period of permissive left turns during which oncoming traffic does NOT have a red light and has the right of way over the turner, who must yield.

I asked Kitsap County Public Works if that covers it and Traffic Engineer Jeff Shea replied, “A solid yellow also terminates a flashing yellow. It’s important to understand what a solid yellow signal means. It doesn’t mean hurry up. You can cross the stop bar on a yellow. If you can stop safely, you should. If not, the solid yellow allows motorists to get through the intersection before conflicting traffic is given a green indication.”

One thought on “Driver wants details of yellow left turn lights

  1. This ties in what I was taught while learning to drive in Virginia.
    A solid yellow light means stop. If you’re already in the intersection, you’re free to get out but you should not enter the intersection (hurry up) at this time.

    The flashing yellow is a new visual queue that you can left turn on non-arrowed green provided you yield to oncoming traffic that also has a non-arrowed green.
    Solid green and red arrows define their own right of way obviously.

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