Behold: The Left Turn Arrow

August 1st, 2012 2 Comments

A while back, I mused about a couple unexpected innovations around traffic lights. At the time, I assumed traffic lights had reached their design ceiling, but I was ever-so wrong.

Maybe I’m oddly in-tune with traffic lights because I’ve noticed something new on the streets, the flashing yellow left turn arrow.

I saw one over the weekend and immediately wondered why bother, since everyone knows that you must yield to oncoming traffic when turning left at a green light. Then it struck me (unintentional pun) that some people don’t yield when turning left at a standard green light.

My wife and I were hit by one such person in Chicago many years ago while driving straight through an intersection. I distinctly remember him insisting that he had a green light.

Anyway, reading the coverage of these new flashing yellow arrows, there is early evidence to support the theory that people understand what the yellow arrow means better than the old way, i.e. yielding to oncoming traffic. From the USA Today article:

Margaret Fuqua of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet says it’s early for a thorough evaluation because of the short time span and limited number of installations, but so far, there has been about a 30% reduction in left-turn collisions.

That was a year ago.

While this isn’t classic innovation, it is adjustment to user behavior and experience, just like green left hand turn arrows were. It’s refreshing to watch something seemingly mundane and design complete evolve to meet the needs of its users better.

Or maybe I just have a thing for traffic lights.

Apologies to my international readers for a US-centric post. Does your country have an even better mousetrap, erm, traffic light?

Find the comments.


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2 Responses to “Behold: The Left Turn Arrow”

  1. John E. Bredehoft (Empoprises) Says:

    When I visited France on business, I encountered a number of roundabouts. I’ll grant that there’s a trick to navigating roundabouts also, but on the surface going around roundabouts seems safer than making left turns. See section 2 of this Federal Highway Administration page for a list of benefits of roundabouts. http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/intersection/roundabouts/fhwasa10006/

  2. Jake Says:

    I’ve noticed those popping up around here too. The do take some practice. I’ll never enter a roundabout without thinking of “Look kids, Big Ben, Parliament.”

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