Florida shortens yellow lights, traffic tickets soar

Florida recently shortened the legal length for yellow lights, and red-light cameras generated $100 million for the state last year. But shorter yellow lights could pose a safety threat. 

Steve Mitchell/AP/File
Surveillance cameras hang on a traffic pole on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach, Fla. A recent Florida law change shortened minimum yellow light lengths across the state, which could make intersections considerably more dangerous.

Do you live in Florida? Have you received a ticket from a red-light camera lately?

There may be a reason for that: according to Tampa's CBS affiliate WTSP, the state recently shortened the legal length for yellow lights. That's caused a surge in red-light citations -- and proved beneficial for Florida's coffers.

WTSP became suspicious of yellow-light times last December, when a Hernando County woman was killed after another motorist ran a red light. Timing of the yellow light revealed that it was shorter than expected, making drivers more likely to run the subsequent red light and making the intersection considerably more dangerous. 

After further digging, reporters found that in 2011, a law had been changed to reduce minimum yellow-light lengths throughout the state. Previously, minimum lengths were based on the posted speed limit at the intersection in question or the average speed of drivers, whichever was greater.

The 2011 change eliminated the "whichever is greater" stipulation, giving cities with red-light cameras the opportunity to reduce yellow-light times. In Tampa, WTSP found that times were most often reduced at intersections with red-light cameras or along corridors with such devices.

In Hernando County, that made all the difference. Yellow light lengths had been trimmed by a few tenths of a second, from 4.5 to 4.3 seconds, which likely played a role in the aforementioned woman's death.

The Florida Department of Transportation says that it reaps no financial benefit from red-light cams and had no incentive to trim yellow-light times. A spokesperson went on to say that any reductions in time to the bare minimum were implemented by engineers who didn't fully understand the amended law.

Whether or not that's the case, we can't say. What we can say, however, is that red-light cameras generated $100 million for Florida last year, and they're on track to haul in $120 million in 2013.

And although some studies show that red-light cameras do make roads safer, curtailing yellow-light times can do just the opposite.

Check out the full report on this story in the news clip below.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.