Right vs. left turners at flashing yellow pose a question

The in basket: Margaret Gibbard writes, “Two cars are turning onto the same road- which has the right of way – the right-on-red car or the left-on-blinking-yellow car?

The out basket: That’s an excellent question that hadn’t occurred to me. A left turner with a green light would have right of way, but the blinking yellow left turn signals require yielding to vehicles with a green light, which, of course, a right-on-red turner wouldn’t have.  I had to ask Kitsap County Sheriff’s Deputy Scott Wilson to sort it out for me.

“A left turn is one of the most dangerous movements a motorist makes,” Scott replied. “Left turn traffic signals are designed to let drivers know when to yield to oncoming traffic and when they have the right of way, but the variety of the signals that are in use can be confusing.

“The person who submitted this question asked specifically about which driver has the right of way when two cars approach from opposite sides of an intersection:  a vehicle that is turning left has a flashing yellow arrow, while the other vehicle that is turning right  has a red light.

“In this instance the car turning right has to come to a complete stop before proceeding.  It must yield to any vehicles approaching from the left as well as any vehicles approaching from the opposite direction with a green left turn arrow or a flashing yellow arrow.

“The vehicle turning left on a flashing yellow arrow has the right of way over the car that’s stopped for the red signal, intending to turn right.  The car with the flashing yellow arrow must proceed with caution and yield to any vehicles that are entering and passing through the intersection from the opposite direction.”

So I guess it depends on whether the right turner has gotten into the intersection already.


6 thoughts on “Right vs. left turners at flashing yellow pose a question

  1. What is an example of where this might happen? I am under the impression the flashing yellow would only happen if the opposite light was green.

    1. I was thinking the same thing. This really does sound like a dumb impossible question. I don’t think there is any way to have a flashing yellow if the other direction is red.

      I think a better question would be, “Is it legal for a driver to wait in the middle of the intersection with a blinking yellow light while waiting to make a left turn when the opposite direction has a green light”? I know it sounds like an obvious question and answer, but around Kitsap county you see it all the time, especially in Silverdale where the traffic has to go a different direction because of road work. BUt in Silverdale the traffic just parks in the intersection because the drivers automatically assume that they can make it even when the light is already red. But the worse thing about those cars in the intersection waiting to go is the law enforcement who allow it. See it all the time. The only place you don’t see cars in the intersection is where there are red light cameras. But at the same time people still run the red light cameras. LOL.

  2. I wonder how many people are going to know who goes first if they don’t read this. In any case, I still just use my old standby: if the other guy looks like he’s not going to yield to me, he gets to go first. He might be wrong, but I’d prefer that over me being right and dead trying to prove it.

  3. I think you should revise your answer. To advise the questioner that the person with the flashing yellow turn light has the right-of-way could result in a car accident. If you are stopped at a flashing yellow light, ALL the cars entering the intersection from the opposite direction (including right turners) have a green light. You must yield to all of them.

    1. County public works officials agree that they can think of no situation in which a yellow flashing left turn light would be activated with oncoming traffic facing a red light. It’s not a question I asked myself, to my regret. If nothing else, the analysis in the column would apply to a driver making a U-turn in a yellow flashing left lane, where that is legal, and meeting a car turning right on red from the side street.

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