Flashing yellow traffic lights: Safe or dangerous? - FOX5 Vegas - KVVU

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Flashing yellow traffic lights: Safe or dangerous?

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LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -

Jan. 14, 2013, is a date Brian Kay will never forget.

That's when his granddaughter, 3-year-old Emily Kay, was killed in a wreck at the intersection of Pebble Road and Eastern Avenue.

"I raised that kid, you know … I'm a mess, to be honest with you, (and) my daughter is a mess," Kay told FOX5.

Emily was in a booster seat in the back of her father's sedan when it was hit by an SUV making a sudden left turn on a flashing yellow light.

"I really can't blame (the other driver), I can, but I can't. I just - honest to God - I put the blame on the turn signals," Kay said. "I want to see exactly how they came up with this, and why they come up with this."

The flashing arrows are the latest addition to the valley's traffic system, designed to speed up long waits at left turns.

"The county has put some in, they're at least halfway through their project, and North Las Vegas and the city of Las Vegas are coming online too, so they're going to be valley-wide very shortly," said John Penuelas, a city of Henderson traffic engineer.

Sgt. Todd Raybuck with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Traffic Bureau said the flashing yellows are safer than the green lights they're replacing because they force drivers to approach a turn with caution.

"They see green, they go. So part of the purpose of putting that flashing yellow light was to reduce the mindset of I can just make my turn. The overall idea is to reduce accidents in the intersections," Raybuck told FOX5.

The first flashing yellow lights appeared in Henderson in the summer of 2010.

Penuelas said he followed a Federal Highway Administration study which began in the 1990s.

"They came to the conclusion that the flashing yellow arrow was the best display for a permissive type of left turn movement," Penuelas said.

The city of Henderson said its streets have been safer in the two-plus years the flashing yellows have been turned on.

"We've recognized a 23 percent reduction in left turn failure to yield crashes to date," said Penuelas.

But Raybuck warns the yellow light can cause drivers to act in a way that's anything but cautious.

"Unfortunately, over time it's become hurry up and get through the intersection before the red," said Raybuck.

Kay agrees and feels if a green light had still been at Eastern and Pebble, his granddaughter Emily might be alive today.

"I'm totally against it. It cost the life of my granddaughter, and I'm pissed. You're going to change the way people have been driving for how many years? And really not give a fair warning?" Kay asked.

The Regional Transportation Commission did launch a public service announcement campaign to alert the public, but Erin Breen with UNLV's Safe Community Partnership said that PSA alone won't save lives.

"You can't rely on a public service announcement being the only way that people get a message. It's a good excuse to say I didn't understand, but I think the reality is it's your job as a motorist to understand," Breen told FOX5.

It's a reality Kay can't accept, not when he sees other drivers come dangerously close to making the same turn that may have led to his granddaughter's death.

"They didn't get the message across, I don't care what they say. One death, OK, you just struck out, and that was the end result of their special lights that were supposed to help us," Kay said.

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