The Flashing Yellow Arrow Of Death


I’m a pretty good driver. I keep my eyes on the road and my hands on the wheel. I try not to use a cell phone when I’m driving. I kick the tires occasionally, make sure the mirrors are set correctly and change the oil religiously. I can enter an interstate highway smoothly. I know how to parallel-park. And I’ve always been a safe left-turning driver until a few months ago when the city of St. Joseph changed that procedure into a heart-stopping life or death game of chance with this new flashing left-turn arrow contraption.

Maybe it’s because old habits die hard–just like old drivers–but I liked turning left the old way. Here’s how it worked before: If an intersection didn’t have a left-turn signal, then you simply waited for a gap in the oncoming traffic and turned when you had a fleeting chance of living through it.  A green left-turn arrow meant “OK, you can turn left—the oncoming traffic has to stop.” When the green arrow went away, it turned into a green round light, which meant “Turn at your own risk.” Yellow lights technically mean “proceed with caution,” but any driver knows they really mean “Hurry! I’m about to turn red.”

Flashing lights are designed to get my attention. So when I see a flashing yellow left-turn arrow, it may be saying “safer driving statistics” to some traffic engineer, but to me it is shouting “Hey you! Hurry up and turn left, because I’m about to turn red!”

In all fairness, most of us are used to making a left turn with no help whatsoever. I think an intersection with no left turn signal is less dangerous than this flashing yellow thing trying to entice me into suicide by stupidity.

I have a question that I like to ask when somebody wants to change something: “What’s broken?”  Tell me, in specific terms, exactly why we’re changing something that seemed to me to be working perfectly well. What was wrong with the old way of turning left?

They say the new way is safer. That may be true. The odds of getting broadsided will go down significantly after we’ve killed off half of the driving population. I suppose I’m all right with that, so long as I’m in the half who have a pulse when it’s all over.


4 thoughts on “The Flashing Yellow Arrow Of Death

  1. The yellow left turn arrow allows a left turn when conditions are safe. While many of the “green” left turn lights had a sign above them that said “left turn yield on green” or words to that effect, many, many more prohibited left turns entirely once the green arrow went away. Those lights just changed to red.
    The two yellow flashing arrows I am aware of, both of Frederick Avenue, allow left turns when conditions are safe. Both of them were the red light variety before. They maddeningly disallowed a left turn, even when no one was in sight. I like the new system. I’ve actually gotten to make a left turn when, under the old system, I could not.


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