ELKHART — New left-turn traffic signals with flashing yellow arrows have been added to intersections in Michigan, Wyoming, Nevada and Georgia, among other states.
A few have been installed in Indiana, and now there is one east of Elkhart. It's the first of its kind in Elkhart County and probably won't be the last, according to county engineer Jay Grossman. The highway department, along with the county commissioners, chose the intersection at C.R. 17 and C.R. 18 to test out the new signal because of how many wrecks happen there.
Traffic accidents at C.R. 17 and C.R. 18 have almost doubled since last year, according to the county sheriff's department. In 2012, there were 14 crashes at the intersection, and nine were caused by a driver who failed to yield the right of way. This year, there have been 26 wrecks, and 11 involved a driver who did not yield.
The new signal installed this week is a safety improvement, Grossman said. The signal used to have a green arrow for protected left turns followed by a round green light for permissive turns. Drivers will still follow a green arrow for protected left turns, but a flashing yellow arrow will replace the round green light for permissive turns yielding to oncoming traffic.
“Yellow is the international color of caution,” Grossman said. “It should be pretty intuitive.”
Traffic at the intersection ebbs and flows, Grossman said. Ivy Tech has a campus on C.R. 18, and across the street are Little League baseball diamonds. There are at least three churches nearby, including Faith United Methodist Church. John Hogsett, a pastor there, said members of the congregation often comment on crashes they see on C.R. 17.
“I don't know if it has to do with heavy traffic or what, but it almost seems unbelievable how many accidents occur at that intersection,” Hogsett said.
Grossman believes that many of the accidents are caused by sight issues. Drivers sometimes misjudge how far away oncoming vehicles are, especially when there is more than one lane of traffic to watch, he said.
“If multiple vehicles are coming at you, you might have trouble calculating how much time it takes to turn safely,” he said.
Grossman noted that the new traffic signal will help limit more dangerous permissive left turns at peak times of the day. Traffic near C.R. 17 and C.R. 18 is heaviest on weekdays between 7:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. and again between 2:30 p.m. and 6 p.m., he said.
A quarter of crashes in the past three years have happened at night, Grossman said. The highway department is installing new LED streetlights near the intersection to improve nighttime safety.