Drivers passing through Arlington will soon discover an additional signal to the traffic light springing up at different intersections -- a flashing yellow arrow.
This new light will replace the solid green signal that requires drivers turning left to yield to oncoming traffic before turning.
A recent study by the Federal Highway Administrations shows that drivers who encounter a solid green signal when turning left at an intersection often mistake that solid green signal for granting the right-of-way.
“When they see that green ball [while] trying to make a left turn, people just tend to go, not gauging the oncoming traffic and the speed of the oncoming traffic,” said Paul Iwuchukwu, an Arlington traffic engineer.
But there’s no mistaking a flashing yellow signal, he said.
“Flashing yellow normally means caution, so when you see the flashing signal, it means be careful before you proceed,” said Iwuchukwu.
When it comes to left turns, Arlington traffic engineers are hoping for hesitation.
“Even people who you can see are not familiar with the flashing yellow arrow, the first thing they do is, they tend to hesitate or stop completely and then observe and proceed with caution. That's exactly what we want,” said Iwuchukwu.
Arlington officials said they expect the new signals will reduce the number of crashes at busy intersections while reducing gas consumption as cars will not have to wait at the light.
Professor Chandra Bhat said it was not clear if the flashing lights confused drivers or if cities are placing the lights at the most dangerous intersections.
Handouts were disseminated with December water bills as well as posted in schools, libraries and other public facilities.
Installation of the new lights will begin this month and gradually spread throughout the city. Iwuchukwu said that ideally, one would be at every intersection but that will come down to the city budget.