New flashing yellow arrows confusing some drivers

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FEDERAL WAY, Wash. —

Some drivers are seeing red over new flashing yellow lights being installed at intersections in some Puget Sound cities.

 

Once drivers get used to the flashing arrows, traffic flows faster and safer, experts say.

 

  But as drivers from Seattle to Tukwila are finding out, there's a confusing learning curve that could put pedestrians in harm's way.

 

The arrow means drivers can turn left if they yield to oncoming traffic.

 

But when drivers first see them, confusion for some leads to bad decisions.

 

In Federal Way, the yellow beacons are at many intersections, pointing, flashing and beckoning drivers to make a left in traffic, while cars and people are coming the other way.

 

Linda Sower said she finds the new flashing yellow arrows confusing and is uncertain whether they mean stop, yield or go.

 

“I hate them,” said Sower.  “… I had to stop and think about it and that stopping is not good.”

 

Flashing yellow arrows are popping up in cities around the region because studies show the lights not only keep traffic moving more smoothly, but prevent crashes.

 

“Both the severity and the total number of collisions (will be) reduced with this new signal,” said Federal Way traffic engineer Rick Perez.

 

Perez has published studies on the arrows.  Though he said he likes them, he said when they are first installed, confused drivers tend to hit pedestrians, signs, poles and parked cars in the first year, even though signs warn drivers about the new signals.

 

“We found in our analysis that the signage didn’t make any difference at all,” said Perez.

 

 After the yearlong learning curve, studies show that the intersections become safer than they were before the arrows.

 

“Presumably, it’s from better driver comprehension, making less mistakes,” said Perez.

 

Some drivers said they liked the yellow arrows.

 

“Yeah, it makes traffic flow better, I think,” said Connie Adams.

 

The signals can cost $50,000 to install, but traffic engineers said they're worth it in terms of long-term safety and speed.

 

The reported learning curve is seen nationwide.