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Why you're seeing more yellow flashing arrows on stoplights in MN

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Yellow flashing left turn arrows are popping up more and more at intersections around the state.

It's the first change in the state's traffic signals in about 40 years, the Pioneer Press says, and now more than 100 stoplight-controlled intersections in the state area have these signals, Jerry Kotzenmacher, a MnDOT traffic systems specialist, told BringMeTheNews.

Motorists may have seen them around the state: They feature a flashing yellow arrow in addition the standard red, yellow and green arrows.

When illuminated, the flashing yellow arrow allows waiting motorists to make a left-hand turn after yielding to oncoming traffic – if the yellow arrow isn't flashing, the traffic signals work the same as traditional stoplights, MnDOT explains.

Why the change?

The first traffic signal featuring a flashing yellow arrow went up in Minnesota in 2006 as a test project, and when the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) authorized their use nationwide, MnDOT began adding them to all new stoplights, and also began retrofitting older stoplights with the new signals, Kotzenmacher says.

Minnesota has about 5,000 intersections that are controlled by stoplights. MnDOT operates about 1,400 of those (cities and counties operate the others). Of those 1,400, Kotzenmacher says 130 of them have these new left-turn signals – 100 of which are in the metro area.

The lights continue to be phased in on city and county roads as well. Woodbury, located in Washington County, has installed many of the new signals – with 88 percent of the signaled intersections in the city now having the yellow flashing arrow, the Pioneer Press notes.

Safer, more efficient

Studies conclude drivers had fewer crashes at intersections with flashing yellow arrows than at intersections controlled by traditional stoplights, MnDOT notes, and that intersections were also more efficient, offering motorists more opportunities to make a left turn than the traditional signal would allow.

The signals are also flexible, Kotzenmacher notes. Officials can turn the flashing yellow light feature on or off depending on the traffic volume. Typically, the flashing yellow is used when traffic isn't as busy, MnDOT notes.

Woodbury city engineer Klay Eckles told the Pioneer Press that drivers who face a green light tend to try and squeeze between small gaps in traffic more often, while those with a flashing yellow arrow tend to be more cautious, even though they have the same meaning.

The benefits of the flashing yellow arrows have many cities around the state requesting them at local intersections, although, with any change, there has been some confusion about what to do when the yellow arrow is flashing, Kotzenmacher told BringMeTheNews.

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