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Keep eye out for flashing yellow

The Jan. 2 Mail Tribune mentioned an accident where a motorist didn't yield to a flashing orange light. Did the state add a new color since I took my driving test? More importantly, what am I supposed to do when I see one?

—Matt C., by email

Well, Matt, the state didn't add any new colors to the red, green and yellow lights you've likely grown familiar with, so our best guess is that the motorist was failing to yield to a flashing yellow light, not an orange one.

The accident you're referring to happened the evening of Jan.1, and involved a minivan which failed to yield to the flashing yellow light at the intersection of Antelope and Table Rock roads in White City, making a dangerous left turn which caused another vehicle to hit the van.

Just to make sure of the light's color, we had John Vial, Director of Jackson County Roads, take a quick trip out of his office on Antelope Road to double check the light for you. Indeed, it is yellow.

As for what a motorist is supposed to do when they see a flashing yellow light, well, that depends on what type of flashing yellow light they see — that's right, there are two.

A round, flashing yellow light means that motorists are supposed to slow down and proceed with caution, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation's current driver manual. These lights usually stand alone, and are not part of a red-yellow-green traffic light.

A flashing yellow arrow means that a motorist is permitted to turn in the direction of the arrow, but must yield to oncoming traffic or pedestrians. The oncoming traffic has a green light in this situation.

In the particular accident on Jan. 1, the motorist failed to yield to a flashing yellow arrow, which is seen at the intersection of Antelope and Table Rock Roads.

According to Vial, the lights are programed based on the traffic flow, so a driver will either see a red, yellow or green arrow, which act the same as traditional traffic lights, or they will see a flashing yellow arrow, which tells a driver to yield.

"You can make a left hand turn, but you have to yield to oncoming traffic," said Vial.

Those that fail to yield to a flashing yellow arrow when oncoming traffic is present could be cited for failing to obey a traffic control device or for making a dangerous left turn.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.