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May 29, 2015

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As valley’s left-turn signals change, officials note drivers should proceed with caution

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Brian Nordli

Nevada Department of Transportation assistant director Tracy Larkin-Thomason discusses Nevada’s flashing yellow arrow traffic signal at a news conference Tuesday, March 26. Larkin-Thomason was joined by Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak (left), Henderson Councilwoman Debra March (middle) and Las Vegas Councilman Ricki Barlow (right) to discuss the traffic signals.

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Flashing yellow turn arrow signals, such as this one, are being installed the Las Vegas Valley.

Take a moment to slow down, pause … and yield to the flashing-yellow left-turn signal.

Leaders from across Clark County reiterated that message on Tuesday at a Regional Transportation Commission news conference about the signals. The traffic signals either have been or will be posted at hundreds of high-traffic volume intersections throughout the Las Vegas Valley and Nevada in the next two years.

While the arrow may seem foreign to some, city and county leaders and transportation officials expect it to translate into safer, less congested roads.

“These signals make our roads safer,” Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak said. “This is about reducing accidents, reducing fatalities and safer roads.”

Already more than 200 of the traffic signals have been mounted at different intersections around the Las Vegas Valley, with plans to increase to about 400 in the next two years. The first of the signals went up in a pilot program in 2009.

The Nevada Department of Transportation received $4 million in federal safety funds to install more than 650 of the signals across the state. It costs about $26,000 to purchase and install each of the signals.

The decision to switch from the traditional left-turn yield on a green light came after national studies proved the flashing arrow was safer, said Larry Brown, who is the RTC chairman and a Clark County commissioner.

Some intersections fitted with the blinking arrow experienced a 20 percent reduction in car crashes. Henderson Councilwoman Debra March said the city saw seven fewer “failure to yield left turn crashes” in the four months after the installation of the signals than the four months prior to their installation.

Las Vegas Councilman Ricki Barlow said the signal already has helped cut down on gridlock in downtown Las Vegas.

Brown said the old signal wasn’t ineffective; instead Nevada is joining the other 43 states that already employ the new signal.

“It’s not it wasn’t working with the green; this is a technological advancement in public safety,” Brown said. “This has been moving across the nation rapidly and we’re just joining the growing trend of communities adopting the flashing yellow.”

Still, the switch does require an adjustment. Barlow said the arrows initially have caused some confusion among motorists, but most defaulted to yielding at the light. The city has focused on spreading the message to drivers that the yellow arrow means yield.

Metro Police Traffic Bureau Capt. Mark Tavarez said there was no concern drivers would misinterpret the arrow and attempt to speed through it expecting the light to turn red. Most drivers understand the signal’s color and blinking is expected to convey caution, added Tracy Larkin-Thomason, who is an assistant director of planning for NDOT.

But Larkin-Thomason knows for the signal to work, everyone – not just drivers – needs to take note of the flashing arrow, and proceed with caution.

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