The Worcester Telegram-Gazette reported recently that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MDOT) is looking at installing hundreds of new flashing-yellow turn signals in over one hundred communities. The new flashing-yellow turn indicators are designed to reduce the number of accidents that occur at intersections in which one vehicle strikes another vehicle that is turning left. According to MDOT, about 25 percent of all crashes at traffic-signal controlled intersections involve left-turning vehicles. MDOT claims that these types of accidents tend to result in more fatalities and serious injuries because of the angle of impact. It is claimed that the flashing-yellow turn signals will reduce left-turn collisions by about 20 percent. A previous experimental proposal, in which a flashing white light was placed in a red light, was not successful in reducing traffic violations or traffic collisions.
Will This Cause More Confusion Over Signals?
Most drivers know the meaning of the standard traffic signals and colors: a steady red light or steady red arrow means that drivers may not proceed and must stop; yellow signals indicate that drivers should proceed cautiously and assume that opposing traffic may also be permitted to proceed; and green lights indicate the driver may proceed. But many may not know what to do when they see a flashing-yellow signal.
According to MDOT, a flashing yellow arrow is meant to indicate that a driver turning left may proceed but must yield to oncoming traffic and pedestrians. In other words, they may turn left, but must do so carefully. MDOT goes further and suggests that even if a driver does not know exactly what a flashing-yellow arrow means, they will know at least to proceed cautiously.
The new signals will be installed at over 300 intersections in approximately 140 communities across Massachusetts. Five such signals will be placed at intersections in Worcester, including at Route 20 and Greenwood Street, Route 20 and Parkhill Avenue, Plantation Street and the I-290 eastbound off ramp, McKeon Road and Blackstone River Road, and Millbury Street and Blackstone River Road. The two-year project is set to begin next year.
How Might This Change Impact Auto Collision Cases?
When a driver violates traffic laws or disobeys traffic signals, these actions can be considered evidence of negligence in a serious car crash case. But negligence may be more difficult to show if the collision occurred as a result of the at-fault driver claiming that he or she did not understand new or unfamiliar traffic signals. At the very least, motorists injured by another’s negligence may need to be prepared to show that the negligent motorist should have understood the general meaning of a yellow light – whether it is flashing or not – and did not act accordingly. Depending on the precise circumstances of the case, this can require additional testimony or evidence (such as statistical data or other evidence that may show most drivers understand the general meaning of a flashing-yellow traffic signal).