Just before 9 a.m. Sunday, a 97-year-old visually impaired woman was struck while trying to cross East Washington Street at Elly Boulevard South in Petaluma. Petaluma Police officers found her in the crosswalk with moderate injuries, along with a 62-year-old driver who told them she hadn’t seen the pedestrian until the collision occurred.

Officers said the sun may have contributed to the driver’s lack of vision but, in a press release, Sgt. Ken Savano also pointed to the “protected and permissive” left turn light that “police and engineers have identified as contributing to a significant number of right-of-way collisions.”

It’s one of 26 Petaluma intersections with the left turn systems that give drivers a protected left-turn arrow, followed by a green light that allows them to turn after yielding. They will be replaced this spring by green arrows that are followed by flashing yellow turn arrows or red lights.

Sgt. Savano, who heads the Petaluma Police Department’s traffic team, explains the incident and the new technology:

Just before the collision, (the driver) was SB on Sonoma Mountain Parkway and approached the intersection intending to make a left turn on East Washington Street facing a solid round green light permitting her turn left when traffic in the approaching direction, including pedestrians, was clear.  She waited for NB vehicles to clear the intersection and then made her left turn when the collision occurred.  (The pedestrian) was transported to a local area hospital. 

This intersection is scheduled to have the protected/permissive signals system removed because of the right-of-way collisions.  Under a protected left turn, the vehicle in this collision would have had the right-of-way and the pedestrian crossing signal would remain red.  When the protected left turn phase was complete, the pedestrian signal would indicate for the pedestrian to cross, with better protection from traffic.  

More information about the protected/permissive intersection replacement project is available in this Argus-Courier article. 

Right-of-way violations are the second highest cause of traffic collisions in the City of Petaluma, according to Sgt. Savano.


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  1. Dar

    I wish Santa Rosa would install more protected and permissive left-turn arrows. There are way too many intersections that have clear visibility for left-hand turning motorists while the light is a red arrow. This increases congestion and contributes to additional carbon monoxide output from idling vehicles.

    March 20th, 2013 8:45 am

  2. Jeff

    Intersections like the one described are common, and have been for many years. How is it, I wonder, that I know that when the protected left turn arrow is replaced by the round ‘general’ green the pedestrian signal also shows ‘walk’, but the driver in this instance apparently did not? What’s the old saying…? Ignorance of the law is not a defense?
    It seems to me the current signal aorrangement works exactly as designed the vast majority of the time, for the vast majority of drivers and pedestrians. Are we going to force those majorities to relearn how to drive (and walk) just because the rare few don’t know the laws? Typical knee-jerk, and completely ridiculous.

    March 20th, 2013 10:01 am

  3. Sheri

    As a driver, I bemoan the loss of the permissive signals, too. The problem is that people aren’t paying enough attention, not that the signals are flawed. That said, when I’m out walking my dogs, I am EXTREMELY watchful everywhere, but especially when crossing Sonoma Mountain Parkway at Rainier because of just this kind of potential danger. People speed up to the intersection to turn left (or right) without a thought to the fact that someone might be in the intersection. Vegetation in the road, as lovely as it is, contributes to them not seeing anyone until just before they turn. So, as inconvenient as this change is, maybe it’s a good thing after all.

    March 20th, 2013 10:56 am

  4. Joel

    I drive down Dutton in Santa Rosa and I’ve now had lots of experience with the “flashing yellow turn signals” which are mentioned here as a replacement. I think Dutton and 9th St in Santa Rosa is the pilot program. I’ve noticed a few things passing it every day.

    I drive straight through that intersection going both directions on Dutton and can’t remember one time ever making a turn (who drives down 9th St anyway?) and one of the first lights that a driver sees when approaching the intersection on Dutton heading towards 3rd St & Sebastopol Rd. is that flashing yellow turn signal because it almost always seems to be flashing.

    This would be fine except that, as drivers, we are conditioned to see a yellow light and slow to an eventual stop at the light. Heading on my way straight through the intersection, I have no need to stop because my light is green and the traffic slowing in front of me is unnecessary too.

    Every day as I drive first northbound and then southbound on Dutton I have to triple-check my thinking and driving response to this flashing yellow light that has no bearing on my path. I’ve now learned to simply ignore the yellow flashing light (except of course watching out for cars who might just turn left and hit me) which is detrimental for other, regular intersections where i have to actually remember to stop at yellow lights. It does not seem like a good idea for me to be re-conditioned into ignoring yellow flashing lights.

    Just my 2 two cents…

    Tl;dr: using flashing yellow lights as a replacement for permissive (but not protected) lights at an intersection re-structures a driver’s response to all yellow lights making for dangerous driving when I no longer believe that i have to stop for yellow lights.

    March 20th, 2013 11:03 am

  5. Dar

    Joel, can you not differentiate between a flashing yellow light and a solid yellow light? I’m not trying to be antagonistic, but it seems that there are distinct differences that shouldn’t make one “triple-check” their thinking, at least not after seeing it once or twice.

    March 20th, 2013 2:31 pm

  6. Bill Williamkill

    There’s more people than cars. We have to adjust. We have to adapt to new ways to avoid all this grief. I’m all for it.

    March 21st, 2013 8:35 am

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