6 Cities That Were Caught Shortening Yellow Light Times For Profit

Short yellow light times at intersections have been shown to increase the number of traffic violations and accidents. Conversely, increasing the yellow light duration can dramatically reduce red-light violations at an intersection.

Some local governments have ignored the safety benefit of increasing the yellow light time and decided to install red-light cameras, shorten the yellow light duration, and collect the profits instead.

Here are some of the cities that have been caught with short yellow light times over the past few years:

Important note: These news stories were collected from the archives of TheNewspaper.com, an excellent resource for anyone interested in traffic laws and other motorist issues. If you subscribe to TheNewspaper.com’s feed, you’ll never miss the latest news. It makes an excellent complement to this blog.

1) Chattanooga, Tennessee
The city of Chattanooga was forced refund $8800 in red light cameras tickets issued to motorists trapped by an illegally short yellow time. The refund only occurred after a motorist challenged his citation by insisting that the yellow light time of 3.0 seconds was too short. LaserCraft, the private vendor that runs the camera program in return for a cut of the profits, provided the judge with a computer database that asserted the yellow was 3.8 seconds at that location.

The judge then personally checked the intersection in question was timed at three seconds while other nearby locations had about four seconds of yellow warning. City traffic engineer John Van Winkle told Bean that “a mix up with the turn arrow” was responsible and that the bare minimum for the light should be 3.9 seconds.

Read the Full Story

2) Dallas, Texas
An investigation by KDFW-TV, a local TV station, found that of the ten cameras that issued the greatest number of tickets in the city, seven were located at intersections where the yellow duration is shorter than the bare minimum recommended by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).

The city’s second highest revenue producing camera, for example, was located at the intersection of Greenville Avenue and Mockingbird Lane. It issued 9407 tickets worth $705,525 between January 1 and August 31, 2007. At the intersections on Greenville Avenue leading up to the camera intersection, however, yellows are at least 3.5 or 4.0 seconds in duration, but the ticket-producing intersection’s yellow stands at just 3.15 seconds. That is 0.35 seconds shorter than TxDOT’s recommended bare minimum. Dallas likewise installed the cameras at locations with existing short yellow times. A total of twenty-one camera intersections in Dallas had yellow times below TxDOT’s bare minimum recommended amount.

The ticket camera program in Dallas made the news recently for shutting down some of its cameras because they were no longer profitable.

Read the Full Story

3) Springfield, Missouri
The city of Springfield, Missouri prepared for the installation of a red light camera system in 2007 by slashing the yellow warning time by one second at 105 state-owned intersection signals across the city.

The city defended its effort to the Springfield News-Leader by claiming it was “standardizing” and had increased the yellow time at 136 city-operated lights to meet national standards. During the city council meeting last October where the red light camera ordinance was approved, however, Assistant Director of Public Works Earl Newman gave a different explanation for the reduction. Newman said he was, “concerned that many individuals run the light if the light remained yellow too long.”

Read the Full Story

4) Lubbock, Texas
KBCD, a local television station, exposed the city’s short timing of yellow lights at eight of the twelve intersections where the devices were to be installed.

Prior to the news investigation, Lubbock City Engineer Jere Hart assured city council members that he would not increase yellow times. According to the city council’s traffic commission minutes of September 19, 2006, Jere said, “if [the red light camera program is] implemented, the public would prefer to have an increased amber cycle,” but he stated that, “the program will not adjust the amber/yellow time.”

Shortly after the investigation became public, red-light cameras were installed in Lubbock. However, after they proved to be both unprofitable (due in part to a new state law giving 50% of the ticket camera profit to the state) and unsafe (accidents increased where the cameras were installed), they were taken down.

Read the Full Story

5)Nashville, Tennessee
Even without red light cameras, police in Nashville, Tennessee have been earning hundreds of thousands in revenue by trapping motorists in conventional ticket traps at city intersections with the shortest yellow warning time.

In 2006, Nashville resident Joe Savage obtained the data on every red light running ticket issued on Broadway street since 2000. He said that yellow lights are longer at intersections along Broadway until the areas where police are issuing tickets. At those locations, Savage clocked the yellow signal time at less than 3 seconds, in violation of both state law and federal regulations. A local newspaper, The Nashville Scene, then confirmed his findings.

Read the Full Story

6) Union City, California
In 2005, Union City, California was caught trapping motorists with a yellow signal time 1.3 seconds below the minimum established by state law. As a result, the city was forced to refund more than $1 million in red light camera fines.

The city’s violation came to light after Dave Goodson, an engineer, received a ticket and realized that he did not have sufficient time to stop before the light had turned red. As a result of his inquiries, Union City’s traffic engineers admitted that they had set the yellow signal time at Union City Boulevard and Lowry Road at 3 seconds, despite the state law mandating the time be 4.3 seconds or greater.

Authorities said that the yellow was too short long before the cameras were installed, but that no effective system was in place to verify the timing of the traffic signals despite their direct impact on safety.

Read the Full Story

Closing Notes:
These are only the cities that have been caught; it’s likely that this happens much more than the general public has been led to believe. Many cities avoid the bad publicity involved with shortening yellow lights by installing the cameras at intersections with inadequate yellow light times from the beginning.

If you or a family member receive an unjustified red-light violation ticket, it may be worth your time to check the yellow light duration at the intersection where the ticket was given out.

Also, if you know of any city currently shortening yellow lights in your area, let everyone know by posting it the comments of this post.

Image Credit: jaqian

Not an NMA Member yet?

Join today and get these great benefits!

Leave a Comment

309 Responses to “6 Cities That Were Caught Shortening Yellow Light Times For Profit”

  1. RICK GOLD says:





  2. walt otto says:

    Laguna Beach: My wife and I walk each night on Pacific Coast Hwy (past 35 years) The Walk sign changes timing with days of the week…it is always different. The city has set the southbound left turn arrow ok, but cars are still allowed to turn left (supposedly when entersection is clear on the regular green light—which is when the northbound walkers have a green walk sign. We have complained (I have been attacked by left turners, fallen over hoods, pushed my wife to safety all to avoid the left turners

    who are turning on the green light (intersection is not clear and people (me andmy wife) are in the crosswalk. It's a good thing both of us are athletic and can

    move out of the way quickly. I have reported it to at least 5 cops in town and the chief of police…no results…so if you walk or turn left at broadway and pch, be careful…

  3. Bob says:

    Any information on Lilburn, Georgia?

  4. […] to the car blog Jalopnik and the National Motorists Association, Nashville is one of six cities (also including Chattanooga) accused of shorting the amber cycle on […]

  5. No Fear – Read THE LAW in Rule 4 of the federal or your state's Rules of Civil Procedure, re Service of Process: http://www.findlaw.com/casecode/

    "It is extremely easy to beat this type of ticket in court. Your easiest defense is to simply throw the ticket away. If it does not come with a return receipt that requires a signature, there is no proof that you actually got the ticket and they cannot prosecute you on that. What the legal system wants you to do is just send in the fine and not ask any questions. This can be a big money maker for some communities. One other form of defense to utilize on your behalf is the fact that when you are accused in court you must be faced by your accuser. Obviously the computer cannot appear in court as a defense method for the prosecution. Also, you do not have to identify yourself as the driver of the vehicle because it would violate your sixth amendment rights against self incrimination."
    -Norman G. Fernandez, attorney at law, and Jes Beard, attorney at law in Chattanooga, Tennessee, JesBeard.com, "How to Beat a Speeding Ticket – Photo RADAR" http://jesbeard.com/s11.htm

    How to Beat a Speeding Ticket – Free Ebook download by attorney Norman G. Fernandez http://www.bikerlawyer.net/how-to-beat-a-speeding

    Motion to Dismiss Robocop Ticket in Knoxville Tennessee http://piratenews.org/robocops-cowden-vs-redflex2


    Redflex and city councils facing Federal criminal investigation http://tv.groups.yahoo.com/group/piratenewsrss/mehttp://wesawthat.blogspot.com/2008/01/feds-launchhttp://reportredflex.com

    "Redflex Group is based in South Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. Redflex Holdings Limited was listed on the Australian Stock Exchange in January 1997. Redflex Traffic Systems Inc has contracts with more then 130 USA cities, and is the largest provider of digital red light and speed enforcement services in North America." http://Redflex.com.AU

    Free online video game: Shoot the Redflex Robocops in Knoxville TN http://piratenews.org/kill-robocops.html

    VIDEO: How to terminate 1,001 Robocops with bullets, forbombs, thermite and The Law http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-38365846

  6. Michael M says:

    The city of College Station, TX should be added to this list. They have shortened yellow durations a full 1 second below the minimum allowable timing established by the TX Dept of Transportation which uses the Institute of Transportation Engineers formulas for yellow light duration timing based on the posted speed limit and the size of the intersection.

    The light which I received a ticket at turned red just after I entered the intersection, and the yellow signal duration is 2.9 seconds which is one full second short of the minimum allowed timing for that intersection (communicated to me by a TX DOT engineer), and is just below the TX state law's 3 second minimum duration.

    Needless to say, College Station's City Hall was only interested in me paying the fine, would not allow me to speak to the prosecutor, and denied my request for a speedy trial since I was from out-of-state. They happily accepted my credit card payment though!

    The way I figure it, at $260 per violation and assuming that their plethora of red light cameras catch 50 unsuspecting motorists a day, thats $13,000 a day or 4.7 million a year which the city collects. The clerk at City Hall claimed that they see very little of those revenues and that it goes to the state instead.

  7. […] accused of this form of stealing because they’re manipulating yellow light times in order to maximize the number of traffic infractions at certain intersections. Short yellow light times at intersections have been shown to increase the number of traffic […]

  8. […] amerikanske byer er ifølge Motorist.org dømt for å ha justert trafikklysene til å vise et kortere gult signal enn minimumskravene for å […]

  9. […] cameras, shorten the yellow light duration, and collect the profits instead." Click on THIS to read the story. Craig!! __________________ SEE MY CARS "It takes far more […]

  10. Pinney says:

    Does anyone know what happens to the money that was paid in fines, fees, bail, and other misc. costs go? To what is it applied, and is it used for raises in salarys and expense accounts? Where does all this money go?

  11. Lucky225 says:

    I have created 2 programs to help contest these fraudulent tickets
    http://www.exhalenite.com/cp.exe — This one uses the ITE's formula to tell you what the amber timing should be
    http://www.exhalenite.com/cpcal.exe — This one uses a formula found in the California MUTCD, the timing given by this program is what is mandated by the California Vehicle Code.

    (Exhalenite.com's main website is a porn site my wife runs, NSFW, the exe's are being hosted here for convenience only.)

  12. Michael M says:

    Hmm…Its time to add a somewhat different yet very realistic slant to this whole thing of shortening yellow light times in order to raise revenue from traffic cameras:

    Various new studies have shown that accident rates at intersections where red light cameras were installed and where the yellow light timing was shortened by 1 second show (as I recall) a 28% increase in the rates of traffic accidents. Riddle me this: What types of accidents occur at intersections? T-bone types of accidents where a huge percentage of the time one motorist and/or passenger is severely injured.

    So, here are my ideas to put an end to this unrealistic and certainly less safe method of raising revenues by using red light cameras in conjunction with shortening yellow signal durations by a full second:

    My first idea is obvious — the city and/or state is liable for the increased accident rates since the city and/or state has an implied duty to insure the public's safety. This one is a "no brainer," and I am suprised that this obvious reasoning hasn't been brought up in court.

    My second idea is simply based on recent studies related to increased accident rates at intersections which have had their yellow light durations shortened to anything less than what is specified by the MUTCD. The short and sweet is that decreasing yellow light times by 1 second results in a 28% increase in accident rates. Thus the municipality should be liable for paying 28% of all damages including medical costs, vehicle repair or replacement costs, disability costs for the duration of the disability, and loss of income while recuperating from injuries sustained in the accident, for any accident which occurs at an intersection where the yellow timing light as been shortened in order to generate increase revenue from a traffic light camera installed at said intersection. I am sure that a lawyer can throw in a thing or two which I failed to mention.

  13. […] Via Instapundit, I give you this scheme of evil. […]

  14. That's crazy, I'm from Springfield. Looks like I left just in time.

  15. barry says:

    Bob on March 27 asked "any info on Lilburn GA?". I too got one from Duluth, its neighbor, and, after reading this web site of the National Motorist Association, I am going to time the intersection's yellow light. If it is 3 sec or less, I will post this for Bob and any other unlucky driver trapped by Gwinnett County's multiple traffic traps.

  16. Carl says:

    To Whom It Concerns:
    I think I just got busted by a yellow light shortening in Wilmington,Nc. My ticket cost is #50.00. I think it is a shame these people have to do under handed things against the public to get funds.

  17. susan says:

    my brother and i both think that yellow light times are shorter in brevard county florida as well. not necessarily just where cameras are installed.
    if the national std. time is 1second for each 10mph posted, we are wondering when this std. was created?? we are thinking that the yellows are much shorter than in the past anyway. perhaps this is our baby boomin' getting old perception! anybody know?

  18. eL Ray says:

    I don't think i would just throw a red light camera ticket away. You may wnat to fight it the right way. Just like running a toll booth, they send you the fine, and if you don't pay, they suspend your license, of course they give you time to correct the issue before suspending you, but it's not worth the hassle. Go to court, Don't just throw it away.

  19. Dan Mosqueda says:

    Colorado Springs has these cameras setup, but I understand "The City’s cameras do no record video and are not used by police for red light or speed enforcement," according to the city's website. I'm sure folks think they snap photos.

    I'm glad they don't use them for generating tax revenue, but I wonder if there isn't inherent danger in that they could cause people to panic stop in order to avoid a ticket.

  20. […] 6 Cities That Were Caught Shortening Yellow Light Times For Profit: […]

  21. Allen says:

    I regularly drive at the intersection of Mockingbird and Greenville here in Dallas. It may be the yellow was short, but I don't think it matters to most drivers. You can regularly see a stream of cars that just flat out run the light when it turns red, even cars that don't enter the intersection until it turns red. Lovers and Greenville is another terrible one.

    If it could be done effectively, I wouldn't mind these cameras at every intersection in Dallas. Dallas drivers are the worst of any place I've lived for running red lights.

  22. […] the National Motorist Association (via sivacracy.net) shows that in 6 cities (two in Texas), the yellow light duration was shorter […]

  23. Robert says:

    There is some suspicion that now that Houston has begun placing cameras at red lights they may also be shortening the length of the yellow lights around them. Is this anyway to pay for the cameras? You bet!!

  24. tktt1 says:

    St. Louis, MO and surrounding suburbs are using the cameras and short yellows.

  25. Leia says:

    I also live in Knoxville, TN. I received a red light violation recently in an intersection that i frequent. At this light, the yellow light is down two about 2.5 seconds. I am amazed this is allowed. They often show the profits made off of the red light cameras on the news. The numbers are astounding. The city made $955,000 at $50 per ticket in 2007 . Unbelievable.

  26. Gene Whaley says:

    Savannah, Ga.

    On Abercorn just before you get to Mall blvd. headed East.

  27. Bill Gomes says:

    I recently received a traffic ticket in the mail for running a red light at a photo enforced traffic signal intersection.

    I recalled the incident because of the photo light flash, and thinking, that was a really quick yellow light.

    I was driving the speed limit, 40 miles per hour as I approached the intersection. I was nearly at the crosswalk when the light turned Yellow, to close to slam on the brakes and stop. I entered the intersection on a yellow light and was about 2/3's to 3/4's of the way through the intersection when the photo light flashed.

    About 3 weeks latter ( the violation date on the notice is 3/04/08, I do not know that to be accurate). the amount of the fine $349.50, due by 4/03/08 Approximately 1 to 1 1/2 weeks after receiving the notice in the male hardly enough time to research the laws and find out where I stood.

    I finely found your web-site on the internet and discovered the the State law requires a 4.3 sec. duration for yellow lights. So I purchased a stop watch and went back to Stockton, Ca, on Hammer lane just off Hwy 99. I Checked the yellow light duration at 11 intersection from Highway 99 west on Hammer Lane in Stockton, including the one they claim I ran the red light (West Lane & Hammer Lane – Which they failed to mention on the citation). All but 2 Clocked at 3.72 to 3.93 duration for the yellow light except Holman & Hammer Lane 4.94 and Sampson and Hammer Lane 4.82.

    West Lane and Hammer Lane, a photo enforced intersection ( West Lane by the way is a 2lane + 1 turn lane in each direction as is Hammer Lane + an island which makes the intersections approximately 250' to 300' crossing) and the Intersection where the claim I ran the red light.

    It is my belief that Stockton Ca. is engaging in the same kind of revenue enhancement programs that your other 6 cities have engaged in.

    I have not resolved my violation notice as yet, as i have just gathered the information I believe is needed to appear in court and resolve this matter.

    Do You have any suggestions on how I should proceed.

    I appreciate your input.

    Thanks Bill Gomes
    Elk Grove California

  28. Bill Gomes says:

    Did You recieve my first e-mail regarding Yellow Light durations in Stockton California?

    Please respond, as I got a message that indicated my 1'st message did not go through.

    Thanks Bill Gomes
    Elk Grove California

  29. RICK GOLD says:





  30. Gretchen G. says:

    I live in Dallas and a friend of mine has been issued several tickets because of these cameras. There is one at Coit & Campbell in North Dallas. The yellow light does not stay that way for long. I avoid that intersection because of all the accidents. I think there is one off of Greenville and Abrams as well.

    Be carefull and take care

  31. jcp says:

    @ Bill Gomes and anyone else trying to fight a short yellow.

    I would VIDEOTAPE the light at the intersection in question. Your stopwatch and testimony is not nearly as convincing as a tape. In the off chance that any of these go to jury hard evidence is always better than testimony. And do it before they adjust the timing.

  32. Vincent Clement says:

    "no effective system was in place to verify the timing of the traffic signals despite their direct impact on safety."

    I guess they haven't heard of stop watches in Union City?

  33. Fred Gruber says:

    I believe the City of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County, Michigan, have shortened yellows.

  34. SoCal says:

    San Bernardino CA might be doing this at Hospitality and Waterman. Beware!

  35. […] National Motorists Association posted an article about six cities since 2005 that have been busted for having yellow-light times […]

  36. […] love to see an investigation like this done in Phoenix. Tags: Cameras, corruption, Red […]

  37. Nathan Cookson says:

    I think Marysville, CA is also doing this at the intersection of 3rd and F.

  38. When returning to San Francisco, late one rainy evening, I was caught by a red light camera at the intersection of Lake Street and Park Presidio Boulevard.

    The intersection in question is the first traffic light one sees in San Francisco after crossing the Golden Gate Bridge.

    To make matters worse, it is at the bottom of a slope – terrible conditions for stopping rapidly, even moreso in wet conditions, late at night, at the end of a long drive – and is encountered immediately after emerging from a long tunnel that goes beneath the Presidio.

    It is, according to everything I have read on this site, perfectly located for extracting maximum revenue from people who are not San Francisco or Bay Area residents, hence, less likely to protest and unable to return and examine the behavior of the light.

    I would be keenly interested in hearing from others whom have received tickets from this intersection's camera or whom have ideas on how to contact everyone whom has been affected by this camera's operations.

    I can be reached at POB 105, 945 Taraval St, SF CA 94116.

  39. Steve Cyester says:

    When this photo radar scam was installed in our Colorado city, we were informed that about 25% of the fine goes to the city and 75% to the company that operates this scam. Further, these "speeding tickets" and their points do NOT go on your driving record. That's proof to me that this is simply a speeding tax and a money maker for the gutless corrupt corporate controlled government in this nation…even on a little bitty local basis. It's a s much of a joke as our fair tax system run by the IRS Mafia.

  40. […] runners.  The original report detailing the 6 cities that tampered with yellow light timing is here. This entry was written by Chris, posted on April 13, 2008 at 12:19 pm, filed under Asides, Misc, […]

  41. number_one says:

    It really ticks me off that this kind of abuse is so rampant. Supposedly, the whole point of adding cameras was to get people to stop running red lights, thus PREVENTING accidents. However, it seems clear that many city officials care nothing about the safety of their constituents and everything about padding their own salaries. To go so far as to do something that will INCREASE accidents by providing too short of a time for motorists to safely stop is clearly an abhorrent crime. These people should not only be charged with what is essentially fraud but also with accessory to murder for anyone who has been killed trying to drive through one of these unsafe intersections.

  42. Winner says:

    In 1996 Costa Mesa CA (OC) this was already being done on Harbor Blvd. The yellow was as short as 2 sec.

  43. Emily says:

    I believe that Dalton, Ga has shortened the yellow lights on the lights that are monitered by cameras.