Report: FDOT, local communities shortening yellow lights – and writing more red-light camera tickets

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10 News Investigators have found a subtle – yet significant – tweak to Florida’s rules regarding traffic signals has allowed local cities and counties to shorten yellow light intervals, resulting in millions of dollars in additional red-light camera fines. 

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) quietly changed the state’s policy on yellow intervals in 2011, reducing the minimum below federal recommendations.  The rule change was followed by engineers – both from FDOT and local municipalities – collaborating to shorten the length of yellow lights at key intersections, specifically those with red-light cameras (RLC). 

While yellow light times were reduced by mere fractions of a second, research indicates a half-second reduction in the interval can double the number of RLC citations – and the revenue they create.  The 10 News investigation stemmed from a December discovery of a dangerously-short yellow light in Hernando County.  After the story aired, the county promised to re-time all of its intersections and the 10 News Investigators promised to dig into yellow light timing all across Tampa Bay. 

Red-light cameras generated more than $100 million in revenue last year in approximately 70 Florida communities, with 52.5% of the revenue going to the state.  The rest is divided by cities, counties, and the camera companies.  In 2013, the cameras are on pace to generate $120 million. 

“Red light cameras are a for-profit business between cities and camera companies and the state,” said James Walker, Executive Director of the nonprofit National Motorists Association.  “The (FDOT rule-change) was done, I believe, deliberately, in order that more tickets would be given with yellows set deliberately too short.”

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.