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On June 15, 2009, 79-year-old Andrew Cavanaugh was t-boned on the passenger side of his 2004 Buick Century while driving through an intersection and subsequently died from injuries he sustained in the collision. Both Cavanaugh and the driver of the 2003 Toyota Camry that struck him, 71-year-old Jacqueline Stinson, were travelling at the posted speed limit of 25 mph at the time of the accident. The only problem was that the stoplight on Cavanaugh's end of the intersection was timed to require a minimum speed of 30 mph for a driver to safely make it through before the light changed from green to red. Investigators found that Cavanaugh had just three seconds to make it across four lanes of traffic. To make matters worse, he wasn't wearing his seatbelt.

Cavanaugh's daughter, Shanon Baker, has since filed a lawsuit accusing Pinellas County, Florida as holding the blame for her father's death. While the light is maintained by the Pinellas County Highway Department, its duration was calibrated by the Florida Department of Transportation when it was first installed in 1998. Since that time, there have been no other reported incidents as a result of the light's timing, and Pinellas County intends to fight Baker's lawsuit.

[Source: Tampa Bay Online | Image: Horia Varlan, CC 2.0]


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  • 49 Comments
      • 4 Years Ago
      As an ex-defense lawyer, in my opinion the woman driver is at fault. She had the responsibility to make sure that the intersection was clear before she entered it. The old man had the right to clear the intersection before opposing traffic tried to enter. A good driver should NEVER just barrel into an intersection, even if the light is green. If there is already traffic there, having a green light doesn't give you the right to just plow into them.
        • 4 Years Ago
        My husband used to call those lights "Texas Grapefruits" --- yellow on the outside red on the inside. In my experience, even when my light changes to green, I can count on an opposing driver sailing late into the intersection. It's just Murphy's Law. So I take that extra beat to make sure that the intersection is truly clear, and that nobody is in, or on their way in. I have guessed right on this enough times that I know I've avoided several accidents.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Traffic Engineers not Police determine the length of the Yellow Clearance times. The Yellow Clearance time is determined by many factors such as Speed, Volume of vehicles, Size of Intersection, Geometry of intersection, Time of Day, etc... The engineers don't shorten yellow times for the purpose of revenue by traffic violations. The shortest the yellow time can be is three (3) seconds, most intersections are longer yellow clearance time. When the yellow light turns on and if you can safely stop then STOP, if you are too close to the intersection to stop safely then proceed through the intersection. After the signal turns RED for one direction, there is always a short time before the signal turns GREEN for the other direction. This is called "All Red", usually 1.5 to 2 seconds (depending on intersection)before the Green. When the light turns GREEN it doesn't mean go ahead and barrel through the intersection without any regard to what is going on. The GREEN only means to proceed if you can safely do so. You must be vary aware of what is happening in the intersection. If the intersection has vehicles crossing through during the ALL RED time and your signal turns GREEN does not give you the right to hit the vehicle going through. Two Wrongs don't make a Right. Basically everyone needs to pay attention when driving and especially at intersections. Thanks for reading..
      • 4 Years Ago
      I'm really sorry her father lost his life. BUT, why is she trying to make money off of it?
      I think I got the gist of this story. She actually has gone so far as to time the time
      between red lights and the speed limit requirement. Wow, this is one desperate
      daughter, I guess her dad wasn't going to lease a big enough estate for her???
      • 4 Years Ago
      do you know why they set it at 30mph? so the can get the revenue for speeding tickets. makes sense, get revenue for people doing the wrong thing.
      • 4 Years Ago
      i really have to wonder about the weird conclusion americans make. the reason why the guy died was not the speed limit, but the wrong timing of the traffic lights in combination with the fact he wasn't wearing his seatbelt.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Seatbelts do save lives. But there's no information in this article that gives us a way to know whether wearing one in this wreck would have saved his life.
        • 4 Years Ago
        The article really isn't being fair- I would guess the lawsuit is not as much about placing blame for this guy's death as it is just using an example to sue the county for shortening the yellow light to an unsafe level for the sole purpose of writing more traffic violations.

        wow there's a run-on...
        • 4 Years Ago
        @Beaverboy

        Sounds good in theory. In practice we all know that if you are within a few feet of the intersection and travelling the speed limit you cannot safely stop in time for the light without slamming on your brakes and taking very good chance of being hit from behind. That safe reaction time window shrinks with older drivers. This is why we have Yellow lights. Many cities (mine included) have been shaving a few seconds off the Yellow Light time to increase ticket revenue. Especially where there is a red light camera. The lawsuit is dubious however when someone dies and there is a simple way we might be able to help prevent it in future we should be doing it. There are going to be more older drivers on the roads in the next few years. All Yellow lights should allow a proper safe window of time.

        Anyone not wearing a seat belt is a fool but in a T-bone accident it isn't likely to save you.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I hope she wins the law suite. The timing of traffic lights here in Florida is horrible, that is when they are working.
        • 4 Years Ago
        It is odd. My father is in Tampa, and the yellows seem exceptionally long. His reason is because of the all of the old people with slow responses.

        To have a light set the opposite seems strange, and to have it set so that you have to be speeding 20% over the speed limit to make it is interesting at best, malicious at worst- that the state authority seems to be condoning speeding by this action.

        While there may be some blame on the state's part; I would say most should be attributed to NOT wearing a SEATBELT, and that the slower responses of septegenerians in general, as well as frailty of health at that age.

        NOT making light of this in any way, but getting hit at 25mph doesnt seem like that should be a life ending accident.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I think this is ridiculous. Unless they are using data from black boxes in the cars, I doubt any "expert" could prove the cars speed within 5mph. Also, I have a hard time believing that the difference in distance traveled (25mph vs. 30mph) is great enough to have made a difference in whether this accident occurred or not. If you can't see approaching cars at an intersection at a speed of 25mph, you SERIOUSLY shouldn't be on the road in the first place.
        Shame on the family of the old man for trying to take advantage of the situation for money.
        • 4 Years Ago
        And I hope you realize that he contributed to his own death by declining to wear his seat belt.
        • 4 Years Ago
        A seat belt would have been of very little value in this case. Its anchor points are at the B-pillar and that would be the general area you would strike, so it really couldn't do much, if anything, to keep that from happening. So it shouldn't be a factor really.
        • 4 Years Ago
        While it's sad the old man died, I don't think it was the speed limit which killed him. More likely, it's the fact that he wasn't wearing his seatbelts.

        Once again, we are reminded that seatbelts save lives.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Beavboy- Are you some kind of accident savant? Where do you get this crap? Anyone should be able to get thru an intersection while traveling the posted limit and being confronted with a yellow light at the point of entry. That was not possible here by the way the light was timed. The fact that the guy was not wearing a seatbelt can be argued in court as a contributing factor in his death. Ever hear of an "accident reconstructionist"? Insurance companies and law enforcement agencys have used these experts for decades along with all the devices available to them. I'm shure they all will be gratefull to you for your "expert analysis".
        • 4 Years Ago
        "...it was first installed in 1998. Since that time, there have been no other reported incidents as a result of the light's timing..."
      • 4 Years Ago
      It seems to me, that if this gentleman entered the intersection while the light was still green, or even yellow, then the light for cross traffic must have been red. Which means that really the fault here lies squarely on the woman who plowed into the intersection without checking to see if it was clear. It doesn't matter if he was crossing the intersection at 5 mph. If he was still in the intersection when the other driver's light turned green, she should have waited for him to get across. Even if she was "timing the light", not leaving enough room to stop is still a failure to drive correctly on her part.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I agree with the logic behind the the timing of the lights playing a big factor. But it's still up to drivers to be aware of their surroundings, especially at an intersection. Too many people assume that a green light means they can drive through without taking a glance around to make sure someone isn't running a light/stop sign.

      I've had a couple of near misses where the light turned green for me, but I took a quick look to my left/right and saw a car run the yellow late or even the red. On two occasions, I saw accidents just like the one mentioned in the article. Light turns green, people drive on without checking to make sure it's safe.
      • 4 Years Ago
      As a Traffic Technician, there may have been at least one second of red clearance(all lights are red to clear the intersection). the problem may have been that the older citizen could not discern the signal light at that distance until it was too late.

      Or, maybe she just hated him.
      • 4 Years Ago
      It obviously was not the posted speed limit that caused his death. He wasn't wearing a seat belt. His fault.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Wear your damned seatbelt.

      I still can't believe how many people still don't. I have more than one friend that gets into my passenger seat and doesn't put one on, even when the car makes annoying 'bongs'. I'm like "seriously? Are you really that stupid when we all know someone that died without a seatbelt?" It's ridiculous.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Considering the 2nd vehicle is a Camry, maybe it had a stuck pedal.
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