Confusion at the flashing yellow arrow

A different kind of traffic signal is appearing at more and more intersections around Minnesota. It uses a flashing yellow arrow to help drivers turn left, but some people find them confusing and dangerous.

Aryan Mathur would poke fun at his parents with his Vine videos but he was very close with them.

"He was the most loving child," said his father Anu, never imagining he would have to speak about his son in the past tense.

In September, Aryan and his neighborhood buddy Jake were coming home from Eagan High School. Jake had just gotten his license a few days before, and the two were relishing their independence from the bus. According to witnesses, the left turn signal at the corner of Lexington and Wescott was flashing yellow. Jake made his turn into the path of an on-coming pickup truck.

"We did get to see him and hold him and touch him for a few days," Anu said.

His son never regained consciousness and died eight days later. Jake was seriously hurt and has no memory of the accident. His family declined an interview.

The Mathurs frequently invite Jake to their home, they sense a connection with their son through him.

"We love him like our own," said Deepa Mathur, Aryan's mother said.

"We cannot put that on that child,” added Anu. “We've told him again and again that it wasn't his fault.”

The Mathurs believe Jake got confused by the traffic signal and fear other drivers are in danger of making the same mistake. There are at least 160 flashing yellow arrows now in place around the state, and the Minnesota Department of Transportation said the public is asking for more..

"The main objective is efficiency," said Jerry Kotzenacher of MnDOT.

The signals allow drivers to make a left turn after yielding to oncoming traffic, which means less sitting and waiting for the next green arrow to cycle through.

"With this not being consistent, the flashing yellow, it throws people off. That doesn't have anything to do with age or experience," said Deepa.

The traffic light at the scene of the deadly crash does send mixed signals. Sometimes, it gives drivers a green arrow to turn left, other times, it changes to a flashing yellow as soon as through traffic gets the green. It can also flash yellow when through traffic is on a red. An inexperienced driver might think oncoming traffic is stopped, too, and decide to go, they’d be wrong.

Some cities have had flashing yellow arrows for years, others have none at all.

"I don't know what to do, cause I've never seen one before," said a driving student enrolled at the AAA Driving School.

They're covered in driver's education and there are questions on the permit test, but none of Minnesota's driver exam stations have those signals installed on their test courses.

"It's a lot different seeing it in a Minnesota manual or in a computer versus in real life," said Matt Moseley a driving instructor with AAA.

Older drivers coming in for refresher courses are puzzled by them. 

"They're not sure if they're supposed to yield, if they're supposed to go," said Deb Van Dyke, an instructor at AAA Driving School. "It's just something new that they have not learned about previously."

MnDOT promotes the flashing arrows as being a "safer, more efficient left turn signal," but has yet to do an analysis of what impact they're having on safety in Minnesota.

"We haven't done a formal study yet. But we do look at accident reports over time," said Kotzenacher.

Using the state’s open records law, the Fox 9 Investigators obtained crash data for 73 intersections with the new arrows. Since 2014, there have been nearly 780 crashes, more than 340 injuries and at least one death. Rear-end collisions and t-bones were most common type of crashes. Young drivers 21 and under accounted for more accidents than any other age group. Eight of the ten intersections with the most crashes had an increase in collisions after the yellow arrows went in.

However, this data only indicates a crash happened at or near an intersection and not if the arrow was a contributing factor. It would appear there might be a connection.

"We have to research this more," Aryan's mother said.

MnDOT acknowledges there is a learning curve for drivers, so to clear up any confusion, its policy is to install signs on any state roads that have the signals that read: “Left turn yield on flashing yellow arrow."

"The public kind of demanded it and we listened and we said alright let's start putting these in,” said Kotzenacher.

There's no such sign at the intersection in Eagan where Aryan Mathur was hit. The road is a county highway and Dakota County has decided the signs are more of a distraction than a help.

How to help the Aryan's family

The Mathur family recently held a bike-a-thon in Ayran's memory to raise money for poor kids in India. They hope Aryan's death will prompt the state to take a closer at flashing yellow arrows to see if more can be done to clear up any confusion. 

To contribute to the Aryan Mathur Memorial Fund click here: