Tampa Bay motorists tired of waiting to make left turns at busy intersections will soon get help in the form of flashing yellow arrows.
The state is set to roll out more than 75 of the traffic signals at key intersections around Florida in an effort to boost safety, keep traffic flowing and reduce gasoline consumption.
The first flashing yellow arrow in Hillsborough County will be installed at Fowler Avenue and Jefferson Road in a few months.
Pinellas County installed a flashing yellow arrow at Nebraska Avenue and Belcher Road in Palm Harbor in November 2009 — the first one in Florida.
Two others are planned along Belcher Road at Alderman and Tampa roads by the end of the summer.
"It gives us that ability to provide additional protection and safety," said Ken Jacobs, Pinellas County's traffic signal operations manager.
Flashing yellow signals are operating at more than 1,000 intersections in 35 states, and that number is growing as cities and states look for ways to safely move traffic, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
Studies show some drivers making left turns can misinterpret a green signal as giving them the right of way against oncoming traffic, the highway administration says. Flashing yellow arrows tell drivers to turn left but yield first to oncoming cars and pedestrians.
"The first time you see it, it's like "Wow, what's going on?' But I don't think there's anybody who sees it who doesn't know what to do," Jacobs said. "They see an arrow, its flashing, and they know they have to yield."
If motorists have trouble understanding the flashing yellow lights, signs posted next to the signals remind them to yield.
It's too early to tell whether the devices reduce the number of crashes, but Jacobs says no accidents have occurred at Belcher and Nebraska as a result of yellow arrow lights.
The Department of Transportation decided to install the signals as traffic signal heads come up for replacement or as intersections are renovated. Flashing yellow arrows don't work everywhere, and factors such as traffic volume and the number of pedestrians contribute to whether engineers choose to install the $1,800 lights.
Engineers in Hillsborough are waiting to see how well drivers at Fowler and Jefferson adapt before deciding to install more of the signals, Transportation Department spokeswoman Kris Carson said.
Pinellas County installed its first flashing yellow arrow in response to a school crossing guard who asked the county to find a way to slow cars making left turns onto Nebraska and Belcher. Jacobs said the flashing yellow arrows can be switched off during periods of heavy traffic — or high pedestrian traffic — to allow left turns only on green arrows.
"I think it's something people can get used to because they've adapted to other changes," said Lil Foreman, 51, of Wesley Chapel, who drives to the Palm Harbor library every week. "It used to be that you couldn't turn right on red, but people got used to it when that changed."