Drivers with a flashing yellow arrow must yield

My question concerns the flashing yellow left-turn arrows we see at many local intersections. Frequently when I am eastbound on Pine Street in Central Point preparing to enter Interstate 5 (southbound) on a green light, a westbound vehicle trying to enter the same on-ramp will make a left turn on the flashing yellow right in front of me. Who has the right of way, the vehicle on green or the one on flashing yellow? Shouldn't drivers turning left on a yellow arrow wait until oncoming traffic is, say, a third of a block away?

— Cleve T., Central Point

In this instance, you, as the driver of the car with the green light, have the right of way, either to turn onto the I-5 on-ramp or to continue straight.

Here's what the DMV drivers manual says about a flashing yellow arrow: "This signal means turns are permitted or allowed (unprotected), but you must first yield to oncoming traffic and pedestrians. Oncoming traffic has a green light. Proceed with caution."

So in your case, the other driver with the flashing yellow light doesn't have to stop, but can proceed cautiously when it's safe to do so. However, if there are cars approaching you, then that driver must stop and wait until it's safe to make the left turn.

What is "safe" is a judgment call by the turning driver in every instance at all types of intersections. I can't say it should be a third of a block away, because too many things can come into play, such as the speed of the oncoming vehicle. That is a judgment made by the driver at the time and under those circumstances.

If, in the view of an observing police officer, the driver's judgment did not appear to be sound, then the driver could be ticketed and have to defend his choice in court. A citation in this circumstance might be for either failing to obey a traffic-control device or for making a dangerous left turn.

Dace Cochran, a patrol sergeant with the Jackson County Sheriff's Department, writes a weekly Q&A column on police issues for the Mail Tribune. Have a question for him? Write to Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501, or e-mail

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