Short Yellow Light Times No Longer Going Unnoticed

There was an excellent editorial in the Wall Street Journal today on the topic of ticket cameras and short yellow light times.

This is part of an increasing trend in ticket camera press coverage. Two years ago, the press never mentioned short yellow lights as the potential cause for increased accidents at troublesome intersections. Now it is mentioned in nearly every article on ticket cameras.

It’s becoming clear that cities will not be able to get away with this revenue-enhancing trick for much longer.

Here are few excerpts from the Wall Street Journal editorial:

Laid to rest long ago should have been the pretense that the goal is “safety,” not chasing cash. New York State, sinking under budget shortfalls, last week authorized a batch of new red-light cameras around the state. A recent investigation by the Detroit News showed that even conventional ticket-writing is driven by revenue needs. Said one cop: “When you’re being told how many tickets you need to write, to me that’s a quota.”

Consider: Red-light running and speeding, the two main uses of traffic cameras, are implicated in fewer than 8% of accidents. A far more prevalent cause of nondrunken accidents is driver inattention — one study estimated, in a typical case the driver’s eyes are diverted from the road for a full three seconds or more, fidgeting with a cellphone, disciplining the kids in the back seat, snoozing, blotting up spilled coffee, etc.


Stop-light cameras are especially pernicious. Where red-light running is a problem, the solution is usually a longer yellow — at least three seconds is the recommended minimum for a 25-mph intersection. Drivers do not blast through red lights on purpose. Even the federal government encourages the use of engineering solutions before installing a red-light camera.

Yet as the late and lamented Rocky Mountain News found when Denver was sizing up intersections for cameras a year ago, many of those deemed accident-prone had yellows timed at the state minimum of three seconds or even less. Citizen groups around the country have more than once raised suspicions of authorities shortening yellows to ring up more tickets. Half a dozen Georgia towns just cancelled their camera contracts after a state law mandating the addition of an extra second to the yellow made them unprofitable.

Even defenders of photo enforcement acknowledge studies showing that red-light cameras (which are designed to be conspicuous to motorists) lead to an increase in rear-end collisions as drivers slam on the brakes. Defenders claim the trade-off is still a net gain because of reduced deadly T-bones in the middle of the intersection. But the real lesson may be that both types of accidents would be reduced by a longer yellow.

Read the full article here.

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