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Group to Shame Cities with Short Intersection Yellow Time
National Motorists Association gears up to challenge cities that use short yellow times to maximize red light camera profit.

Short Yellow
A motorist rights group seeks to expose cities that use short yellow times at intersections to increase red light camera profit. The National Motorists Association Foundation this week announced a new Stop Short Yellow Lights website that encourages drivers to measure the duration of the warning period at photo enforced intersections around the country.

"To get involved, people near red-light camera installations will simply use a stopwatch to time the length of the yellow lights," the group announced. "If the yellow light duration appears to be dangerously short, the NMA Foundation will dispatch a trained, objective traffic engineer to confirm the traffic light timing. Once confirmed, the NMA Foundation will publicize its findings and encourage local officials to take appropriate corrective action. If necessary, legal action may be taken."

The group believes using public and legal pressure to lengthen signal timing will have a two-fold effect. First, adding an extra second of yellow to an undertimed signal would essentially make the use of red light cameras unprofitable. According to a report by the California State Auditor, four out of every five photo tickets in the state were issued before the light had been red for a full second. With a longer yellow, the vast majority of those tickets would not have been issued.

Second, the group believes that using longer yellow times in most cases would improve safety. Short yellows trap drivers in what is known as a "dilemma zone" where there is neither time to stop safely -- without slamming the brakes and risking a rear-end collision -- nor to proceed through the intersection before the light changes to red. A 2005 Texas Transportation Institute study confirmed that yellows shorter than the bare minimum recommended amount cause an increase in both accidents and red light violations.

Although it is frequently reported that cities shorten yellow times after red light cameras are installed, this is actually a rare occurrence. More commonly, cities simply followed Institute of Transportation Engineer guidelines that throughout the early 1990s recommended shorter yellows and "more enforcement" (view changes). Years later, photo enforcement companies would target the locations with the shortest yellow, as proved in a confidential memorandum obtained from a 2001 court trial in San Diego, California. In the memo, Lockheed Martin IMS (now operating as ACS) explained that it would only install cameras only at intersections with "high volume and Amber (yellow) phase less than 4 seconds." Similarly, a Baltimore, Maryland judge in 2002 caught the city trapping motorists at signals with illegally short yellow lights. (Read court memo).

The NMA's first effort in harnessing user-generated content resulted in the Speed Trap Registry, a website with a comprehensive national listing of locations where police officers are known to ambush motorists.

Visit the Short Yellow Lights Project.

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