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Flashing Yellow Turn Signal Accidents in California

Posted by Emily Ruby | Jun 17, 2024 | 0 Comments

Driving in California, much like anywhere else, comes with inherent risks. This is especially true when navigating intersections, even with traffic signals that are supposed to regulate the flow and make it safer. But what happens when those signals aren't as clear-cut as a simple red or green light? This can become confusing for drivers. We are going to focus specifically on flashing yellow light intersection accidents in California and how these unique situations often lead to collisions.

Turn signal flashing yellow

We've all been there - approaching an intersection where the light blinks a steady yellow.  This is even more dangerous when there is a yellow arrow for your particular direction of travel. Many people misinterpret the flashing yellow. Some might think it's okay to zip through, but sadly, a lot of accidents occur at these flashing yellows because drivers don't completely grasp the safety precautions required.

If accidents keep occurring at a flashing yellow light, the city could possibly he found liable. The city has a duty to provide a reasonable level of safety when it comes to traffic fixtures. 

Table Of Contents:

Understanding Flashing Yellow Lights and California Law

What to do at a flashing yellow turn signal is not just some random rule of the road; it is codified into California law. Following a yellow light intersection accident in California, it's vital to have a solid understanding of what the law actually mandates. Here is a simple breakdown:

What a Flashing Yellow Light Really Means

Section 21457 of the California Vehicle Code, clarifies that a flashing yellow light means you have to proceed with caution. Many people are unaware of this code. But it isn't as simple as just being cautious.

When approaching a flashing yellow light drivers are supposed to slow down. Scan every direction multiple times before they even think about entering the intersection, and yield to oncoming traffic. Why? Because the other traffic might have a green light. That's right, flashing yellow for one driver usually means someone else is barreling through with a green. And a common mistake drivers facing these lights are making is assuming the other drivers see them and are yielding to them.

Why Flashing Yellows Create a Complex Situation

Flashing yellow light intersections in California pose a particular problem: ambiguity. See, humans rely on predictable patterns. We love knowing what to expect in nearly every situation in life, including driving.

Red light? Easy, stop. Green light? Just as easy - go if the way is clear. A yellow light already throws in a bit of stress - should we gun it or slam the brakes? It's a judgement call every time, often based on factors such as distance to the light, our speed, and traffic behind. But flashing yellow lights introduce even more confusion, especially if you are unfamiliar with a particular intersection. Are we stopping, or just being extra cautious?

That hesitation from even a split-second is what makes these lights so accident-prone.

Common Causes of Flashing Yellow Light Intersection Accidents in California

You might think a glowing, flashing signal would be crystal clear, but as we've talked about, that's not always how things play out on the road. Let's take a look at a few typical causes behind these accidents:

Misinterpreting Right-of-Way

This is one of the biggest culprits. The flashing yellow often tricks drivers into thinking they automatically get to proceed first just because other directions have to stop. Not even close.

The truth is, flashing yellow means yielding to *any* vehicle already in the intersection. If someone is turning left in front of you, even with the flashing yellow,  guess who's legally required to yield?  That's right -  you.  Misunderstanding this rule results in some of the worst types of accidents we see as lawyers. Drivers assume, 'Hey, my light is flashing; everyone else is stopping', only to get blindsided by a car they didn't anticipate.

Speeding Through Yellow

This one applies to solid yellows but becomes even more hazardous with flashing yellows. Remember the 'split-second hesitation' we mentioned before? When drivers speed up to 'beat the change' and encounter that same hesitation at a flashing yellow, accidents are far more likely. That delay in judgment under pressure can be the difference between a near-miss and a fender-bender.

Distracted Driving: The Universal Threat

Let's face it, flashing yellows demand extra focus - the kind we should *always* have when driving but is easily shattered in our tech-saturated lives.

Phones, radios, rowdy passengers - these all distract from that split-second decision-making flashing yellow lights require.  

The Importance of Consulting a Personal Injury Lawyer After an Accident

In the aftermath of a flashing yellow light intersection accident in California, things get real - and complex. Insurance claims, medical bills, trying to figure out who was at fault - all while dealing with potential injuries and trauma? It's overwhelming to say the least, which is exactly when seeking guidance from an experienced personal injury lawyer makes a huge difference.

FAQs about Flashing Yellow Light Intersection Accidents in California

What Does a Flashing Yellow Light Mean at an Intersection in California?

A flashing yellow light means "proceed with caution." It means that you have the right-of-way but must make sure that the intersection is clear of any other vehicles, bicycles, or pedestrians before proceeding through it. Failure to proceed through a flashing yellow light with caution can lead to an accident.

What Happens if You Run a Yellow Light and it Turns Red in California?

Running a yellow light in California, is generally treated the same as running a red light. Yellow lights are meant to give drivers time to slow down for a stop and are not an excuse to speed through an intersection. California Vehicle Code 21452 explains this more thoroughly. Ultimately it's best to avoid entering an intersection as the light is changing to prevent any accidents.

Can you continue through the intersection if a light is flashing yellow?

While you do not have to come to a stop at a flashing yellow light you still need to proceed with caution. Be sure to scan the entire intersection, checking blindspots, to ensure that cross-traffic has cleared the intersection before you continue. Be aware that you will need to yield to any vehicle already in the intersection before proceeding.

What must a driver do at a yellow flashing light?

Drivers must slow down at a yellow flashing light. Then, carefully proceed through the intersection only when the intersection is clear of cars, bicycles or pedestrians. Remember to watch out for drivers that may not be paying attention, distracted, or impaired and be ready to stop quickly if necessary.

Help For Those Injured At Flashing Yellow Turn Signal Intersections

Flashing yellow light intersection accidents in California highlight the complex reality of our roads, and driving. As we all know, accidents do happen. We all share a responsibility on the road - to drive with care and know our local traffic laws.

However, we are only human, and humans get confused and make mistakes. Especially when they are driving with mere moments to make complex decisions. Flashing yellow lights are often confusing drivers, and whether or not you had the right-of-way when a car accidents involves them may not be enough to determine liability.

When accidents are occurring at unusually high rates at intersections including flashing yellow turn signals, this could be considered notice of a dangerous condition pertaining to the lights themselves. The human condition and what is reasonable to expect are important things to consider when lives are on the line. Having, or not having, the right-of-way in these situations, often is not enough to place full blame...the city that refuses to acknowledge the confusing nature of these situations may be held liable. 

Those who have been injured as a result of a flashing yellow turn signal in California are encouraged to contact an experienced car accident lawyer that they trust after an accident. Whether or not you had the right-of-way may be irrelevant. You can engage with our chat, fill out our form, or give us a call to obtain a free case evaluation on this page. We'll do our best to help.

About the Author

Emily Ruby

2022 "Women in Law" Award Winner, Emily Ruby, specializes in complex cases, many of which involve catastrophic injuries and deaths. Mrs. Ruby has personally obtained more than $100 Million in compensation for her clients with an impressive 97.4% success rate and is a graduate of the prestigious CAALA Trial Academy. She was selected as one of Forbes' Best Wrongful Death Lawyers and is a writer for Advocate Magazine.


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