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The Sneaky Change to Traffic Lights in Florida That's Now Leading to More Tickets

"I think they're cheating the people!"


An investigation by a local news station in Tampa Bay, Florida, has revealed that the length of yellow lights in some areas were shortened, resulting in more tickets being issued by cameras set to catch drivers running red lights.

WTSP reported that the Florida Department of Transportation changed the state's policy regarding yellow light intervals in 2011 below the federal recommendation. Some of the lights were shortened by fractions of a second, according to the news station, and revenue from red light cameras in the state last year brought in $100 million.

"Red light cameras are a for-profit business between cities and camera companies and the state," James Walker, executive director of the National Motorists Association, told WTSP. "The (FDOT rule-change) was done, I believe, deliberately in order that more tickets would be given with yellows set deliberately too short."

Although FDOT does not receive revenue from the red light tickets, 52 percent of the revenue generated goes to the state while the rest is directed to cities, counties and the companies operating the cameras.

Since WTSP's revelation, it reported some legislators saying they wanted the lights to be retimed more according to national standards.

"I don't think it's fair that our citizens should be penalized for yellow lights that have been artificially reduced," State Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) told WTSP. "We know if you lengthen the yellow light by just one second, you'd significantly reduce the number of red light tickets.

Watch the report:

Brandes is referring to a 2003 National Motorists Association study that found increasing a yellow light interval from .5 seconds to 1.5 seconds -- not exceeding 5.5 seconds -- would result in a 50 percent reduction in red light running.

"Increasing a yellow interval that is shorter than that obtained from a proposed recommended practice published by the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) is likely to yield the greatest return (in terms of a reduced number of red-light violations) relative to the cost of retiming a yellow interval in the field," the NMA report stated.

WTSP reported that the federal U.S. Department of Transportation recommends areas with heavy truck traffic or lots of older drivers increase their yellow light interval to allow for enough safe reaction time.

"And despite the fact that Greater Tampa Bay is home to five of the nation's 12 oldest counties (by median age), it's also home to some of the shortest yellow lights," WTSP stated.

Here an example of a driver who was recently ticketed for being a half a second too late through the light:

"I'm not a law-breaker," said Pasco County retiree Shirley Nagle, who got a red light violation on U.S. 19 after more than five decades without a traffic citation.

Nagle entered the RLC intersection about half a second too late in February, and was issued a $158 ticket, which soon became a $262 fine after she didn't pay it immediately. She told 10 News that she spent 32 years working in the New Jersey courts system and would never break the law. She was just proceeding through the intersection because she thought it was the safest option for her.

"It's terrible," she said of Port Richey's RLCs and short yellow lights. "I think they're cheating the people!"

But one of FDOT's engineers said the agency was considering adding three-tenths of a second to all yellow lights in the the state to account for its older population.

Here's more from WTSP including comments from those who have been impacted by the red light tickets and legislator's thoughts:

Check out WTSP's full story for more on its extensive investigation into shorted yellow light intervals within the state here.

(H/T: Reddit)

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