By Gary Biller, NMA President
Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared as an NMA Weekly E-Newsletter #457 emailed to members in October 2017. If you would like to receive the newsletter, join today the thousands of other active motorists who have made that choice! Blue lights continue to increase since this post appeared. Here are a few cities with blue traffic lights since this piece first appeared: Orlando, Florida, St. Cloud, Minnesota, and Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Bismarck, North Dakota, and St. Louis County, Minnesota, are among communities that will soon be installing blue lights at signalized intersections with the intent of catching red-light runners. Omni Directional Law Enforcement Confirmation Lights – the acronym ODLECL rolls right off the tongue – are simply blue lights that begin flashing as soon as a traffic signal turns red. The idea is that if a police officer in the area notices a strobing blue light and also observes a vehicle just entering the intersection, he has justification to issue a ticket.
Editor’s Addition: Here is a 2019 YouTube video from WGCU, a public television station in Southwest, Florida, which gives a video explanation.
Mind you, the cop doesn’t have to be in position to sight down a stop bar or intersection line to determine precisely whether the vehicle crossed when the light was yellow or red, just be in the general area to observe the flashing blue light and the general position of the vehicle. This is a critical distinction, particularly in permissive yellow states where a driver can legally enter an intersection during the traffic light’s yellow phase. (A few states – Iowa, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oregon, Virginia, and Wisconsin – have restrictive “shall stop when facing a yellow signal unless too close to stop safely” statutes that make entering an intersection on yellow a technical violation in many cases.)
Both North Dakota and Minnesota are permissive yellow states. Both also prohibit the use of automated enforcement such as red-light cameras, probably no coincidence. ODLECLs legalize blue-light special tickets. The proper defense would be to question the ticketing officer at trial about how he was able to determine the exact moment of intersection entry in relation to the yellow-red transition of the light. The likelihood of the court accepting his “I observed” statement, regardless of where he was positioned at the time, is high.
Intersection safety is a byproduct of proper engineering, from adequate yellow light timing and sufficient red-light clearance intervals to well-marked intersections and bright, visible traffic signals. Enforcement has its place in certain situations but relying on flashing blue lights as an after-the-fact deterrent amounts to no more than intersection safety based on hope and no less than revenue capture based on certainty.