TAMPA BAY, Florida -- A subtle, but significant tweak to Florida's rules regarding traffic signals has allowed local cities and counties to shorten yellow light intervals, resulting in millions of dollars in additional red light camera fines.
The 10 News Investigators discovered the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) quietly changed the state's policy on yellow intervals in 2011, reducing the minimum below federal recommendations. The rule change was followed by engineers, both from FDOT and local municipalities, collaborating to shorten the length of yellow lights at key intersections, specifically those with red light cameras (RLCs).
While yellow light times were reduced by mere fractions of a second, research indicates a half-second reduction in the interval can double the number of RLC citations -- and the revenue they create. The 10 News investigation stemmed from a December discovery of a dangerously short yellow light in Hernando County. After the story aired, the county promised to re-time all of its intersections, and the 10 News Investigators promised to dig into yellow light timing all across Tampa Bay.
Red light cameras generated more than $100 million in revenue last year inapproximately 70 Florida communities, with 52.5 percent of the revenue going to the state. The rest is divided by cities, counties, and the camera companies. In 2013, the cameras are on pace to generate $120 million.
"Red light cameras are a for-profit business between cities and camera companies and the state," said James Walker, executive director of the nonprofit National Motorists Association. "The (FDOT rule-change) was done, I believe, deliberately in order that more tickets would be given with yellows set deliberately too short."
The National Motorists Association identifies itself as a grassroots group that's been advocating for drivers since 1982. It fought the national 55 mph speed limit and is now campaigning against red light camera technology, contending the technology primarily targets safe drivers who are victims of short yellow lights or safely roll through right turns.
Proponents of the technology hang their hats on a reduction of serious accidents at RLC intersections. They also point out that every electronically generated violation is reviewed by a local police officer or sheriff's deputy before a citation is validated and sent to a driver. But questions about the fairness and constitutionality of RLCs linger, with questionable motivations of the state's yellow light reductions likely to add fuel to the fire.
FDOT CHANGES THE RULES
Yellow light times are calculated by a complex formula that takes into account variables such as the size of an intersection, the incline/decline of the roadway, driver reaction time, and deceleration rate. But ultimately, the proper intervals come down to a driver's approach speed.
When the Florida legislature approved 2010's Mark Wandell Act, regulating red light cameras across the state, FDOT had a long-standing rule that mandated yellow light calculations factor in either the posted speed limit or 85th percentile of drivers' actual speed --whichever was greater. The point of the law was to calculate safe stopping times for the majority of drivers on any given roadway.
But in 2011, FDOT struck the "whichever is greater" language from its Traffic Engineering Manual (TEM), reducing minimum yellow light lengths and allowing communities to re-time their signals at RLC intersections.
The 10 News Investigators found a number of communities shortened their already-safe intervals to the new minimums. In some cases, FDOT mandated longer yellow lights, but seemingly only at intersections that hadn't been in compliance for years. Around Greater Tampa Bay, the yellow interval reductions typically took place at RLC intersections and corridors filled with RLC cameras.
FDOT's change in language may have been subtle, but the effects were quite significant. The removal of three little words meant the reduction of yellow light intervals of up to a second, meaning drastically more citations for drivers. A 10 News analysis indicates the rule change is likely costing Florida drivers millions of dollars a year.
"I think it's immoral to do that," Walker said. "You're basically punishing safe drivers with deliberately improper engineering. That's not moral to me."
The story continues in the link above.
My question is, do you think that since the state decided to change the length of the yellow light at intersections, they should also be held accountable in incidents of injury or death that results when driving conditions are all within the law and due to the shortened length of the yellow light, an accident occurs? I understand the personal responsibility issues, but there is a science to timing the yellow lights to allow for safe driving conditions. Their appetite for additional revenue should not be just cause to make arbitrary changes in order to satisfy their greed.
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