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Illinois Appellate Court Defends Short Yellow Times
Illinois Appellate Court allows red light camera ticket to stand despite illegally short yellow time.

Barnet Fagel
The second highest court in Illinois intervened last Friday to reinstate a red light camera ticket issued at Chicago intersections with illegally short yellow times. Bohdan Gernaga received a pair of $100 tickets in the mail after Redflex Traffic Systems of Australia photographed his car in 2010 and 2011. He challenged each ticket in an administrative hearing run by the city.

Barnet Fagel, a video expert, testified that the yellow time shown in the violation videos was 2.8 seconds in the first ticket, and 2.9 seconds in the second. Both fall below the 3.0 second minimum mandated under federal regulations. He argued further that the citation notice claimed the signal timing was 3.0 seconds, proving the violation notice upon which the charge was based was legally defective. The administrative hearing officer decided to ignore Fagel's evidence.

"[Gernaga's] witness is alleging that the amber light is too short, and he's measuring the time just from the amber, not when it switched to red," the hearing officer objected. "After reviewing all of the evidence and testimony given today, I'm going to give greater weight to the city and find that the city did prove its case."

Fagel uses video editing software to calculate the precise time, down to a thirtieth of a second, that the yellow light is illuminated. While convenient for the city, Fagel says the hearing officer's definition does not fit the long-established legal definitions.

"City of Chicago ordinance, Illinois vehicle code and Federal regulations all refer to the yellow interval as 'steady yellow interval,'" Fagel told TheNewspaper. "This statement defines the signal time without the warm-up or cool down time of the bulb or LED. Incidentally, if green and yellow lights are on at the same time this interval also is not counted as steady yellow time."

On appeal, this evidence persuaded Cook County Circuit Court Judge Patrick Rogers that the ticket was defective and that it must be thrown out. The city's own inspector general also documented thousands of cases where tickets were issued at intersections with 2.9 second yellow times, a fact largely that came to light largely because Fagel kept succeeding in having cases thrown out.

The three-judge panel avoided the issue by finding a mathematical error in Fagel's affidavit that calculated a yellow time of 2.969 seconds for one intersection. The time was actually 2.936 seconds. Fagel says it was a typo, later corrected, that amounted to the difference of one frame of video, but the court deemed it significant.

"An expert's testimony is only as reliable as the facts upon which it is based," Justice Shelvin Louise Marie Hall wrote for the three-judge panel. "In sum, the evidence supports the administrative law judge's finding that plaintiff committed the red light traffic violation at issue and that an opposite conclusion is not clearly evident."

A fraction of a second difference in yellow time can have a significant influence on the number of red light camera citations issued. The majority of straight-through red light "violations" happen when a driver misjudges the end of the yellow light by less than 0.25 seconds -- literally the blink of an eye (view Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) chart). In most cases, a yellow shortened by one second can increase the number of tickets issued by 110 percent, according to TTI (view report).

A copy of the decision is available in a 30k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Gernaga v. Chicago (Illinois Appellate Court, 5/8/2015)

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