Red light cameras don't appear to be going away, so it should come as no surprise that neither are the controversies around them. We're told again and again that they're about safety, not revenue collection, yet year after year, the studies and headlines compete to support and tear down those arguments. An investigative report by Florida's WTSP Channel 10 News gets the maelstrom whirling again, having found that various state municipalities have shorted yellow light times to below those recommended by the US Department of Transportation.
The retiming of yellow lights was precipitated by a change the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) made to its guidelines for yellow-light durations. Until 2011, the regulations "mandated yellow light calculations factor in either the posted speed limit or 85th percentile of drivers' actual speed – whichever was greater." That year, though, the phrase "whichever was greater" was cut, and certain cities began resetting the yellow lights to illuminate for the shorter interval – either trying to ensure more safety or more revenue. The FDOT says the new language was only meant to establish a minimum time for yellow lights, not to dictate their exact duration.
Various US government studies and reports recommend not using a road's speed limit when determining the length of the yellow light because it increases violations and crashes, but instead using the traffic's 85th percentile speed or the speed limit plus ten miles per hour.
More than one study has found that people want red light cameras, studies have also shown that while major accidents have been reduced at intersections with cameras, smaller fender-bender accidents have increased, and that's not an isolated finding. And with so much money in play – the Channel 10 news report says Florida collect about $100 million in red light camera fines last year and could get to $130 million this year – it's no wonder cities shorten yellow light times below the minimum guidelines, manipulate accident data, robo-sign tickets with the names of dead police officers, and redesign their license plates to make them easier for the cameras to read.
Check out the news segment in the video below and head over to the WTSP site for all of the numbers and specifics, and if you're in Florida, you'll need to pay even more attention to the lights in front and the traffic behind.