The Flashing Yellow Arrow was NOT created for these purposes:

  • Better driver understanding of traffic signals

  • People seeing circular green as a protected turn

  • A way to spend more stimulus money

The Flashing Yellow Arrow was created for these purposes:

What's the Difference between Flashing Yellow Arrow and Circular Green?

  • For left turning drivers, a flashing yellow arrow means the same as a circular green.

  • But the meanings are very different for drivers who are NOT turning left:

    • A flashing yellow arrow has no meaning for drivers going straight or right, so they must look at another signal face.
    • A steady circular green means "GO" for drivers going straight or right. This is the cause of yellow trap.

The prevention of yellow trap requires the following to occur simultaneously:

  • The signal allows a permissive (not protected) left turn through gaps in oncoming traffic.
  • The adjacent thru (straight ahead) movement must be stopped by a red signal at the same time.

So what is needed is a permissive left turn indication that can be used when the straight-ahead signal is red.

The circular green indication can't do this, because:

  • A circular green without visibility limits also tells the thru movement to go.
  • All circular indications facing one approach are required to show the same color.
  • A visibility-limited signal can be seen by the wrong movement if the wind can move it.
  • Thus, a visibility-limited circular green (Dallas phasing) can't be used with span-wire or swinging mounts.
  • Left turning drivers are confused by seeing their circular green next to multiple circular red signals facing the same direction.

Until recently, no indication existed for allowing a permissive turn without also releasing the thru movement.

The flashing yellow arrow fits this need. It was chosen because:

  • The old definition was rarely used, and was redundant (same meaning as flashing circular yellow).
  • It was provided for night flashing operation in faces without circular indications.
  • The old definition of flashing yellow arrow never specified a protected, privileged, or yield permissive movement.
  • The old definition of flashing circular yellow specified a yield permissive movement for left and right turns.
  • The new definition clarifies the old one, without conflicting with it.
  • The new definition requires a yield to conflicting traffic.
  • Most drivers figure this out intuitively after seeing a complete signal cycle.

The main difference between the meanings of circular green and flashing yellow arrow:

  • To drivers turning left, circular green and flashing yellow arrow have identical meanings.
  • To drivers not turning left, circular green and flashing yellow arrow have very different meanings.

This difference is the reason the flashing yellow arrow signal was created.

The idea that the flashing yellow arrow is to "increase driver understanding" came from layman politicians.

  • Driver understanding was included in the studies for a different reason: Since a new indication was needed, all new indications proposed had to be tested for the likelihood of driver misunderstanding. But it was not the main purpose of the research.
  • These politicians do not understand the hazard of yellow trap, or the difficulty of providing two-way progression.
  • They just wanted something to say, so they could open their mouths and appear to know what's going on.

One case where the flashing yellow arrow is misunderstood:

  • Some states used the flashing yellow arrow to replace a green arrow during night flash.
  • Drivers who have seen this display expect the flashing yellow arrow to give them a privileged right of way, rather than requiring them to yield to conflicting traffic.

When Flashing Yellow Arrows can not be used:

The Flashing Yellow Arrow shall not be used in these cases:

  • On single-lane approaches.
  • Where an exclusive lane for the turn controlled by the turn signal does not exist.
  • Where any lane is shared between the controlled turn and at least one other traffic movement.
  • Where multiple lanes make the controlled turn, and conflicts occur as a result.
  • Where the left turn crosses multiple streams of traffic.
  • Where multiple permissive turns would otherwise enter the same intersection leg.
doghouse 5

This signal causes
yellow trap.

doghouse 5

This signal can
cause yellow trap.

FYA inline 4

This signal cures
yellow trap.

FYA inline 3

This signal also
cures yellow trap.

FYA inline 4 action

One sample


Signal meanings

Quick reference guide

SGA STEADY GREEN ARROW No conflicting traffic permitted* Protected Protected (Up) Protected
FYA FLASHING YELLOW ARROW Yield to conflicting traffic Burdened   Burdened
SYA STEADY YELLOW ARROW Stop or clear the intersection Clearance†   Clearance†
FRA FLASHING RED ARROW Stop and yield to conflicting traffic Restricted   Restricted
SRA STEADY RED ARROW Stop and stay Prohibited   Prohibited
SCG STEADY CIRCULAR GREEN Go, but turns yield to conflicts Burdened Privileged Burdened
FCY FLASHING CIRCULAR YELLOW Go, but turns yield to conflicts Burdened Privileged Burdened
SCY STEADY CIRCULAR YELLOW Stop or clear the intersection Clearance† Clearance† Clearance†
FCR FLASHING CIRCULAR RED Stop and yield to conflicting traffic Restricted Restricted Restricted
SCR STEADY CIRCULAR RED Stop and stay* Prohibited* Prohibited Prohibited*
PROTECTED No conflicting traffic permitted* Left SGA Up SGA Right SGA
PRIVILEGED Conflicting traffic must yield   SCG, FCY  
BURDENED (PERMISSIVE) Yield to conflicting traffic SCG, FCY, Left FYA   SCG, FCY, Right FYA
RESTRICTED Stop & yield to conflicting traffic FCR, Left FRA FCR FCR, SCR*, Right FRA
PROTECTED CLEARANCE† Stop or clear the intersection Left SYA SCY Right SYA
BURDENED CLEARANCE† Stop or clear, yield to conflict SCY, Left SYA   SCY, Right SYA
PROHIBITED Stop and stay* SCR*, Left SRA SCR SCR*, Right SRA

Note that all turning movements are burdened if not assigned another level by a signal indication:

  • Burdened left turns must yield to pedestrians and oncoming traffic.
  • Burdened right turns must yield to pedestrians.

Note that rights-of-way given by arrow indications apply to only drivers making the movements indicated by the arrows.


Where turns on circular red are allowed, the turns are restricted. In some cases, they are allowed to conflict with protected movements.

Each clearance has the same level (protected, privileged, burdened, or restricted) the movement being cleared has.

The indication shown for clearance must match the indication shown for the movement being cleared:

  • Circular indications are cleared with steady circular yellow:
  • SCG is cleared with SCY.
  • FCY is cleared with SCY.
  • FCR is cleared with SCY.
  • Arrow indications are cleared with steady yellow arrow:
  • SGA is cleared with SYA.
  • FYA is cleared with SYA.
  • FRA is cleared with SYA.

Meanings of Letters in Abbreviations

A - Arrow

C - Circular

F - Flashing

S - Steady

G - Green

Y - Yellow

R - Red