What say you? Will you yield, and this avoid?

Sorry, one of my favorite bits from Henry V. But reader Matt writes in with a confusing (at least to him, and to me upon first glance) yield situation at an intersection in Pennsylvania (Google Map it at: “matsonford road, west conshohocken pa.” Given the mixed messages of the signage, what sayest thou, readers — will you yield?

Matt lays out the scenario below:

This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 30th, 2010 at 2:22 pm and is filed under Traffic Engineering. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

23 Responses to “What say you? Will you yield, and this avoid?”

  1. Matt Johnson Says:

    In this case, I think it is clear that the vehicles turning right always yield to left-turning vehicles from the opposing direction.

    The only conflicting movement for the right-turning vehicles is traffic turning left. That traffic is either doing so with the protected left or because they are yielding on a green ball with no opposing traffic. Therefore, the only thing to which the yield sign in this picture can refer is left-turning traffic.

    I think the yield sign needs to be relocated so that it is closer to the actual merge point.

  2. Randy Says:

    I think the explicit yield (the sign) trumps the implicit yield, so the driver turning left has the right of way. We have some similar intersections in my area, and that’s the way I’ve always read them…

  3. Dan Says:

    Unfortunately it makes a difference which state or province you live in. In British Columbia a person turning right at a light has the right of way over an oncoming car turning left to go the same direction if no left turn arrow is in play. However as soon as an island comes into play creating a right turn slip with a yield sign the left turning vehicle now has the right of way over oncoming right turning traffic but don’t forget about the through traffic. I agree with Matt that the yield sign should be placed closer to the road you are turning on to for this to make more sense.

  4. ToddBS Says:

    I’ve seen many a similar intersection. I’ve always yielded in the case of picture 2, and not yielded in the case of picture 1. Pretty much as Matt Johnson said.

  5. Richard Says:

    The person turning right has the right-of-way.

  6. Josh R Says:

    Interesting question. After consulting with my wife (professional school bus driver) my answer is that the person turning left always has right of way. If they have a left turn arrow, then they automatically have right-of-way because of the arrow, and if they’re turning on a green light during a gap in traffic, then safe driving practices would dictate that drivers turning right yield in order to allow the driver turning left to clear the oncoming traffic lane as quickly as possible.

    You also have the factor of the island separating the right turning traffic into it’s own stream, and the fact that the only conflicting traffic is the left turn lane. I agree with Matt that the only thing right turning traffic could be yielding to is the left turning traffic.

    Not that any of this would prevent a bad/hyperaggressive driver from following whatever rules exist in his head, so keep an eye on right turning traffic and be prepared for the worst.

  7. Paul D Says:

    In Australia, the person turning left (right in our case, since we drive on the wrong side of the road) would have right of way. The basis is that the island effectively makes it two intersections –

    * The traffic-light controlled intersection, and
    * The secondary intersection where your right-turning vehicle intersects with the vehicle that has just turned left.

    So the left-turner has a clear path since no one is oncoming, and the right-turner has to give way at the secondary intersection.

    If the island wasn’t there, the left-turner would have to give way to the right-turner as there’s only one intersection.

  8. Michael D Says:

    The island makes it so that the left-turning car is turning onto an earlier, uncontested portion of the road — and so has the right of way there. That’s what I’ve followed in both roles.

  9. Jan Says:

    Interesting :D.

    On this side of the Atlantic, a left arrow gives you the guarantee of a conflict-free left turn (at least, in the Netherlands it does. The Belgians for example seem allergic to traffic lights with arrows). If there are no arrows (or no traffic lights whatsoever), the “shorter” right turn has right of way over the “longer” left turn.

    In this case, the driver with the bigger car probably goes first…

  10. Steve Bonds Says:

    I’ve not looked at the other comments, so as to avoid any bias in my thoughts after viewing the photos. It helps that I have an intersection very much like it on my commute route so I understand the quandry.

    Here’s what I think:

    1) Left turners yield to oncoming through traffic. They do not yield to right turners.
    2) Right turners yield to anyone in or about to be in their way. This includes people who just turned left and are now going straight through the area those turning right want to be in.

    Eventually that light will turn red, allowing any pent-up right turners to go.

    — Steve

  11. Jan Fabry Says:

    @Jan from The Netherlands: I am from Belgium, and I think the situation depends on the little traffic island that separates the lane for those turning right. If it isn’t there, I agree with your reasoning: vehicles turning right have priority over those turning left, since they come from the right relative to those turning left (and have “voorrang van rechts”). However, with the traffic island, they can be seen as driving in a separate road that merges with the destination road. In this case, the yield sign indicates that the driver turning right has to give priority to other vehicles on this road, in this case also those that turned left. You can also see that in most separate turn-right lanes here in Belgium (even with traffic lights with arrows, we have them too!), they have separate yield signs and/or paint on the road.

    So in this case, I would assume that traffic going to the left have priority over those to the right. If the light is not yet an arrow, there is still a possibility of on-coming traffic, if it is an arrow, they have a red light, and the road should always be clear for you.

  12. Bossi Says:

    I know this intersection quite well, having grown up very close to there; and it’s actually a very common configuration throughout the country — with one issue.

    First, a channelised right-turn forms *two* distinct intersections: the intersection proper; and then another intersection where the right-turn joins the mainline.

    In this case: the signal controls the former; the yield sign is intended to control the latter. Right-turns must give way to opposing lefts.

    However, the yield sign is not placed correctly — it’s placed too early. It should be nearer to the actual yield point… might be something worth sharing with PennDOT if it hasn’t already (especially because my experience has been that people are faster to send info to blogs than they are to the DOTs, even though citizens are the DOT’s eyes & ears).

    This area is in PennDOT District 6 out of KOP. Contact info is here:


  13. Bossi Says:

    Update: I’ve sent an email to PennDOT

  14. Bossi Says:

    Another update: I got an email back from PennDOT. They believe the a city project may have positioned the sign incorrectly; the plans reportedly show it in the right place. They’ll check into it.

    Bear in mind that while PennDOT technically owns the road, by and large the local municipalities operate & maintain them. And since most states have stronger county governments… in PA it’s instead stronger municipal governments; so there is a LOT more complexity as every jurisdiction has their own cultures & treatments… not just with traffic, but for everything.

  15. Tom Vanderbilt Says:

    Excellent… from random blog query to possible DOT action in a dozen comments!

  16. njkayaker Says:

    The yield sign in the second picture is techically misplaced. The right-turn lane is, basically, an “on ramp” to the other street. The problem is that if the yield sign was moved further along the curve, no one making the right turn would see it because their attention is focused on “left turning” traffic. Note that these “left turners” are through traffic by the time the cars using the right-turn lane get to them.

    This is technically two intersections close together.

    Anyway, the signs that other drivers see don’t apply to you.

    I don’t see that drivers would have any particular problems negotiating this.

    It’s “much ado about nothing”.

  17. njkayaker Says:

    Bossi @ 12 said: “However, the yield sign is not placed correctly — it’s placed too early. It should be nearer to the actual yield point… might be something worth sharing with PennDOT if it hasn’t already (especially because my experience has been that people are faster to send info to blogs than they are to the DOTs, even though citizens are the DOT’s eyes & ears)”

    The yield sign is where it is because people would not see it where it “technically” should be because they are looking to the left at the turning traffic.

    The right-turn lane driver should see the island and realize that the yield refers to a place where he might need to yield. That is, I don’t think the placement is actually confusing. And if it is confusing, then that should make the driver more cautious (which is kind of the purpose of yielding anyway).

  18. Dan Says:

    To ease confusion I have at times seen 2 yield signs in this scenario, one on the right at the yield point and one on the right side of the island to the drivers left so he has to go between them, less chance of missing the sign this way.

  19. Bossi Says:

    The yield sign is really just to legally establish regulation… the geometrics of the roadway inherently imply what motorists are supposed to do. As Dan notes: yes, two yield signs are one option; as are edgeline extensions across the end of the right-turn lane to outline the edge of the travelway; and yield lines (a row of little triangular pavement markings) are another option. Making the channelisation island readily visible is often the most critical step.

  20. njkayaker Says:

    Bossi@19 “The yield sign is really just to legally establish regulation… the geometrics of the roadway inherently imply what motorists are supposed to do.”

    Well, without the yield sign, people would not have to yield. But I agree the setup of the roadway implies that yielding is appropriate. That’s why I don’t think the situation is very confusing.

    Bossi@19 “As Dan notes: yes, two yield signs are one option;”

    Two yield signs are certainly an option. You’d still need one where the current one is at (ie, the placement is very deliberate). If you are placing one sign, the “correct” location would be too late.

    Bossi@19 “as are edgeline extensions across the end of the right-turn lane to outline the edge of the travelway; and yield lines (a row of little triangular pavement markings) are another option. Making the channelisation island readily visible is often the most critical step.”

    Yes, the presence of the island is some sort of “signage” too. It’s information provided to the driver. That is a key thing.

    It’s possible that making it more visible would help but that would not work in adverse weather. Not that the island is not very pronounced (presumably, to keep people from damaging their cars if they happen to miss the turn).

  21. Mrs. Davis Says:

    “The yield sign is really just to legally establish regulation… the geometrics of the roadway inherently imply what motorists are supposed to do.”

    Not really. Note in the second picture that there is an expressway entrance on the right. Left hand turners may well cut into the right hand lane to make the expressway entrance. The yield establishes their right to do so despite the appearance of two lanes. We also don’t know how quickly it reduces to one lane. Lots of lousy intersections where there are lots of hills and lots of cars.

  22. Miles Says:

    The yield sign is simply posted too early to be meaningful in some other way; it is quite obvious that it was intended to be placed to the right of the channelized turn lane, which has to yield at the T-junction with the intersecting roadway anyway. It’s a misplaced reminder sign. In Vienna Convention countries its meaning would be “yield when stoplight is not in operation.”

  23. Kevin C Says:

    This is where you need to know your “Movement Ranks”:

    Rank 1: major street thrus
    major street rights
    minor street pedestrians
    Rank 2: major street lefts
    minor street rights
    major street pedestrians
    Rank 3: minor street thrus
    minor street lefts

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