Florida Secretly Shortened Yellow Light Times To Bust More Drivers With Red-Light Cameras

Remember when you got popped with that red light camera ticket last month and then ranted to anyone who'd listen about how it was all a giant conspiracy? "The yellow is too short!" you shrieked, waving your ticket in the air as everyone laughed. "They did it on purpose!"

Well, you don't look so crazy this morning. A Tampa TV station has found that FDOT subtly reworded state law two years ago to give cities wiggle room to shorten their yellow lights -- all so they could catch more drivers in red light camera traps.

See also:

- Non-Lawyer Bob Sherin Fights Red-Light Camera Tickets

The investigation by WTSP began after they found a dangerously short yellow light near Tampa at an intersection that also happened to house a red light camera.

When they started digging into the state rules behind the cameras -- which generate more than $100 million for Florida cities -- they found something curious.

Until 2011, state law mandated that the length of yellow lights be based on a formula that considers either the road's speed limit or a percentage of the average car speed -- whichever is greater.

But that year, FDOT quietly removed the last part -- whichever is greater. The result was that cities could base their yellow times on arbitrary speed limits, which often have little to do with how fast cars are actually driving in an area.

FDOT says the move was meant to "clean up" its regulatory language, but the change goes directly against federal safety suggestions, which note that basing yellow times on speed limits results "in more red light violations and higher crash rates."

It's that first part of the warning that probably interests local cities. Sure, skimping on yellow light times might results in a few more cars slamming into each other every year -- but think of the extra red-light camera revenue!

"I think it's immoral to do that," James Walker, director of the National Motorists Association tells WTSP. "You're basically punishing safe drivers with deliberately improper engineering. That's not moral to me."

Follow Miami New Times on Facebook and Twitter @MiamiNewTimes.

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink