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Improving Safety

Statistically, left turns are one of the most dangerous maneuvers a driver can make, but that may change with the introduction of a new, more intuitive traffic signal at select intersections within Precinct 4.

By the end of the year, Precinct 4 will begin replacing 43 traditional yield-on-green traffic signals with flashing yellow arrow left-turn signals. The new signals will improve traffic flow by giving drivers more opportunities to safely make left turns.

“This will be the first widespread flashing yellow arrow display conversion in Precinct 4,” says Pamela Rocchi, director of Precinct 4’s Capital Improvement Projects division. “Harris County is introducing the flashing yellow arrow display at three-way intersections within Precinct 4 first, so motorists can begin to recognize and familiarize themselves with the display change. The concept would then broaden to include four-way intersections that meet the criteria for conversion.”

Once the initial signals are installed in Precinct 4, the Harris County Engineering Department plans to evaluate all qualifying signals throughout the county for conversion. Intersections will be evaluated based on their crash history, driver-sight distance, number of left-turn lanes, and traffic volume.

Benefits of the Signal

According to a seven-year study conducted by the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP), the flashing yellow arrow signal led to fewer crashes at intersections, shorter traffic delays, and provided more flexibility to handle a variety of traffic volumes. In driver-comprehension studies, the signal stood out as the most intuitive. The study concluded that subjects already familiar with flashing yellow lights instinctively interpreted the new signal to mean “turn with caution.”

The signal was eventually approved for general use in the Federal Highway Administration’s 2009 Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. Since then, the signals have been adopted across the country, including Texas in 2011. Commissioner R. Jack Cagle recently adopted the signals in Harris County after learning about the benefits other locations experienced with the conversion.

“My staff and I are excited to bring this proven technology to Precinct 4,” he says. “Our top priority on county roads is safety.”

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