NMA E-Newsletter #202: We Need Federal Yellow-Light Timing Standards Now

We’re amazed that no enforceable federal standards exist to calculate how long a yellow light should be. Studies and real-world examples clearly show that properly timed yellow-light intervals lower intersection accident and violation rates.

The guidelines contained in the federal Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) are too weak to provide any meaningful safety protections for motorists. They also enable red-light camera operators to claim compliance with federal standards while still setting dangerously short yellows—a practice that drives up violation rates and their ticket revenues.

The NMA recently called on the head of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Victor Mendez, to address this obvious deficiency in the MUTCD. No word from Mr. Mendez yet, but in the meantime, have a look at the national news release (below) we distributed on Nov. 19 and then read our original letter to the FHWA here.

Shortening yellow lights in the name of profit represents a significant safety hazard as well as a violation of the public trust. The highway administration has the power to correct the situation. We will keep pushing until it does.

Federal Highway Administration Rebuked for Inadequate Safety Standards for Signalized Intersections

Waunakee, WI – November 19, 2012: Every day millions of U.S. drivers risk serious accidents caused by traffic signals with yellow-light timings that are set too short.

That is why the National Motorists Association (NMA) has sent an urgent appeal to Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) head Victor Mendez to change current federal guidelines by mandating acceptable yellow-light durations. In a letter dated Nov. 15, the NMA cited specific safety benefits of setting proper traffic signal cycles.

“Short yellow lights force many responsible motorists to make split-second decisions that can lead to unwarranted traffic tickets, or worse, intersection collisions,” said NMA President Gary Biller. “The current federal guidelines on yellow-light durations consist of inadequate recommendations, not proven engineering requirements.”

The NMA letter highlighted a study that determined a one-second increase in the yellow-light interval reduced intersection collisions by 40 percent. The letter also pointed to an example of a major U.S. city that is deficient in its yellow-light intervals by one second because of inadequate guidelines by the FHWA.

In addition, red-light camera operators use this national standards deficiency to set yellow-light times that frequently don’t give drivers enough time to stop as the traffic light turns from yellow to red. “Cities and for-profit camera companies maximize revenue by setting yellow-light times that are too short,” Biller said. “It is a violation of the public trust, and it jeopardizes motorist, cyclist, and pedestrian safety.”

Biller’s letter also highlighted a formula developed by the Institute of Transportation Engineers (and acknowledged on the FHWA website) as the recommended basis for a new federal requirement for yellow-light timing. This formula, he explained, factors in how fast vehicles travel as they approach the intersection. Faster travel speeds require longer yellow lights due to greater stopping distances.

“Proper timing of yellow lights is one of the most critical factors in lowering intersection violation and accident rates,” Biller noted. “Yet amazingly there is no federal requirement for determining what minimum safe yellow times should be—just some optional guidance that many red-light camera operators use to justify dangerously short yellows in order to maximize the profits of their programs.”

He continued, “The FHWA has an obligation to establish clear safety requirements that eliminate such predatory practices. The National Motorists Association is calling upon the FHWA to do exactly that.”

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