5/20/2015Florida: Yellow Light Refunds Highlight Engineering Failure
After yellow time lengthened by 1.9 seconds at Orange County, Florida intersection, red light violations plunge 91 percent.
The Orange County, Florida Board of Commissioners agreed on Tuesday agreed to refund $41,080 worth of red light camera citations. American Traffic Solutions, the county's vendor, issued the tickets at the intersection of Hiawassee Road and Clarcona-Ocoee Road between August 2012 and May 2013. Motorists only had 4.0 seconds of warning time, even though the state minimum for the intersection type was 4.3 seconds.
"The traffic signal was reconstructed in 2012, and the signal contractor implemented signal timing per the approved construction plans which was not in compliance with statewide standards at the time," traffic engineering manager Ruby Dempsey Rozier wrote in a memo to commissioners.
Although 0.3 seconds seems too small an amount of time to matter, 45 percent of the tickets issued during the nine months of short yellow were triggered in the third of a second before the light changed. As soon as the signal timing was corrected on May 6, 2013, the number of citations issued at the location dropped.
"This means that they may not have received a violation if the yellow clearance had been correctly timed," Rozier explained.
Local activist David Shaw obtained four years' worth of citation data and realized through his investigation that the county had also failed to account for the steep 4.8 percent downhill grade on the camera-monitored approach. Florida's yellow time regulations mandated an extra 0.6 seconds because of the grade. On top of that, at the end of 2013 the state implemented new timing standards that added another second to the 45 MPH intersection. Accordingly, Orange County set the signal to 5.9 seconds on December 26, 2013, and the results were immediate and dramatic.
The number of citations issued plunged 91 percent and never recovered (view chart). Contrary to the photo enforcement industry's claim that drivers "adjust" to longer yellows, the data show citations have stayed at a minimal level for 15 months.
The yellow time increased less dramatically at two other red light camera locations under the new state timing policy. After an extra 0.5 seconds was added at the intersection North Dean Road and University Boulevard, there was a 56 percent decline in ticketing from January 2014 through March 2015. At Alafaya Trail and Lake Underhill Road, the decline was 78 percent. Shaw believes these results prove that there are better alternatives to photo ticketing.
"In addition to using the greater of the posted speed limit or 85th percentile approach speeds in signal timing calculation, problems like these could all be avoided if Orange County would follow Palm Beach County's lead in using a grace period of 0.5 seconds before ticket issuance," Shaw told TheNewspaper. "It should be noted that Palm Beach County had a very low ticketing rate, and currently does not have a red light camera program in operation."