President’s Message: Restoring the Reputation of the Flashing Yellow Arrow

Walter OkitsuAtlantic Cities issued an online article with the headline “Flashing Yellow Turn Signal: Good for Drivers, Bad for Pedestrians”. It cites a study by Oregon State/Portland State University researchers where test drivers in a simulator were found to concentrate so much on oncoming vehicles during a flashing yellow arrow display that many neglected to notice pedestrians in the crosswalk. About 4 to 7 percent of test drivers in the simulators failed to see a pedestrian. The article concluded that flashing yellow arrows are bad for pedestrians.

Readers who downloaded the study found that the test was designed to distinguish motorist responses between 3-section and 4-section arrangements of flashing yellow arrow signal lenses. The researchers were not seeking to compare flashing yellow arrows with standard protected-permitted signal phasing. Their study did not prove whether flashing yellow signals, deemed by many traffic engineers as the preferred control for certain phasing requirements, were any less safe for pedestrians than typical permissive left turn control.

The general public might now equate “flashing yellow arrow” with “bad for pedestrians.” The Western District of ITE is beginning to examine ways to undo the damage from such headlines. Our District’s Public Relations Committee Chairman Chuck Huffine will have his committee investigate how ITE can best take an active role to strengthen ties with the professional media to keep them focused in coverage of traffic issues, and diversify our use of new media forms to make sure that the correct information gets to the public.  As guardians of our profession, ITE must play an active role in fighting misinformation.