May 6, 2013

Flashing Yellow? We’ll Pass

Imagine the following:

Imagine the following:

You pull up to the traffic light, ready to turn left across the highway. The light is red, so you wait patiently. At last, the cross traffic stops and the lights change. But instead of a familiar green arrow, red arrow or solid green light, you’re presented with a flashing yellow arrow. What to do? This wasn’t in driver’s ed, was it? Oncoming traffic is still coming. But there’s also a line of impatient drivers building behind you. Should you turn? Wait for another signal? Just push your way through traffic?

That potentially dangerous confusion is why we sincerely hope the state Department of Transportation makes our area one of the last in the state to receive the new flashing yellow arrows they announced last week.

So how to interpret the signal? The DOT explained in their announcement:

“The FYA left turn traffic signal head is designed to make it easier for drivers to perceive when to make a left turn maneuver. The traffic signal head adds a flashing yellow arrow display, which will mean left turns are permitted but drivers must use caution and yield to oncoming traffic and pedestrians by turning when clear.”

The first of the signals was scheduled to be installed May 1 in Richland County, with another 10 to 15 put up at as-yet-undetermined locations throughout the state later this year. Will they be an improvement? Perhaps. We’re not traffic engineers or safety experts, so we can’t say for sure. But we do know that the Myrtle Beach area is already confusing enough for the millions of tourists who head for the beach in the summer, and accident statistics bear that out.

Myrtle Beach Police Department numbers show that as the beach fills up, wreck totals rise steeply in the summer months, often tripling the numbers seen in winter months. It would be folly to add a new, unfamiliar traffic signal to this already dangerous mix of impatient residents and dawdling sightseers navigating unknown roads.

The flashing yellow arrow may be the best invention since chicken bog, but please, DOT, test it elsewhere first. On this, we’re just fine being a late adopter.

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