Florida Law Shortens Yellow Lights, Resulting in Millions of Dollars in Red Light Fines

/ / Law Blog

Florida Law Shortens Yellow Lights, Resulting in Millions of Dollars in Red Light Fines

A small change in Florida’s traffic light regulations now allows Florida cities to shorten yellow lights, resulting in millions of dollars in traffic fines. According to a Tampa news source, The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) changed the policy approximately two years ago when it reduced yellow light intervals below federal recommendations. After the adjustment, engineers began working with cities to shorten the length of yellow lights at specific intersections; primarily those with red light traffic cameras. The lights were only reduced by a fraction of a second, but studies show that even half of a second can double the number of citations at an intersection.

Last year, red-light violations generated more than $100 million in revenue across Florida communities. More than half of the money produced by the fines went back to the state. The remaining funds were divided between counties, cities, and camera companies. This year, researchers guestimate that the red light citations will collect $120 million in fines. An executive director of the National Motorists Association (a nonprofit organization), described red light cameras as a business. “Red light cameras are a for-profit business between cities and camera companies and the state,” he said.

“The [rule-change] was done, I believe, deliberately in order that more tickets would be given with yellows set deliberately too short,” the executive director continued. The National Motorist Association is a self-proclaimed advocate for American drivers. In the past, the association attempted to combat the 55mph speed limit and is currently campaigning against the red light traffic cameras. The association strongly believes that the cameras are used to target safe drivers who are victimized by the shortened lights. On the other hand, advocates of red light cameras claim that technology has effectively reduced serious accidents in intersections that are monitored by the devices.

How does FDOT calculate yellow lights?

Each yellow light interval is calculated by a formula. While drivers’ approach speed is the most important factor, other elements come into play as well. Reaction times, the size of the intersection, and roadway inclines affect the light’s length as well. In 2010, Florida passed the Mark Wandell Act, which allowed the state to regulate traffic cameras statewide. At the time, FDOT mandated that yellow light intervals should factor in the 85th percentile of drivers’ speed on the roadway or the posted speed limit, whichever number was greater.

In 2011, the Florida legislature removed the “whichever is greater” element from the calculation, allowing the yellow light intervals to be based on whichever number was lesser. After the new rule, FDOT mandated lengthier yellow lights at some intersections and shorter yellow lights at others. Most of the shortened intervals were made at intersections with red light traffic cameras. According to FDOT, the yellow lights weren’t changed for financial purposes. In fact, FDOT claims that its portion of the earnings will go to the General Revenue Fund, the Spinal Cord Injury Trust Fund, and the Department of Health Administrative Trust Fund.