By on April 2, 2009

The city of Winnipeg, Canada, has shortened the duration of the yellow warning at intersections equipped with red light cameras. The length of the yellow is the single most important factor in determining the financial success of a photo enforcement program, according to documents obtained from a red light camera vendor in 2001. The city’s signal changes came to light after a 64-year-old grandmother named Judy received a ticket in the mail claiming her minivan had run a red light on August 31, 2008. She contacted Larry Stefanuik, a former police constable who now helps motorists fight traffic tickets who began looking into the ticket. Judy’s ticket shows the intersection had been set with a 3.9 second yellow and that she entered the intersection—slowly—just 0.1 seconds after the light turned red.

That did not match what the city’s stated policy of setting the yellow warning to last at least 4.0 seconds at every intersection, according to an e-mail obtained by Stefanuik.

“So in reality she had not run the red because it still should have been yellow,” Stefanuik said. “Her speed was 49 km/h in a 60k m/h zone [30 MPH in a 37 zone]. She was robbed of 1/10th of a second.”

The local court was not interested in exploring whether the city had violated its own policies by shortening the yellow. On March 18, the court imposed a C$135 fine on Judy, reduced from the standard $190 fine.

These fines have been adding up at the red light camera intersection in question. By 2007 the camera had issued 173 tickets, but by 2008 it was on track to issue 324 — an 87 percent increase. The majority of the red light camera intersections in Winnipeg have seen a similar increase in tickets issued that helped drive an overall ticketing increase in the city of 23 percent.

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37 Comments on “Winnipeg Red Light Cameras Trapping Drivers with Short Yellows...”


  • avatar
    martymcfly

    People run the lights because they know the yellow is 4 seconds long. PLUS there’s a 3 second pause between the time it turns red – and the other direction gets their “green”. People know they have 7 seconds to RUN THE LIGHT. The yellow should be 2 seconds; with ZERO seconds between the red/green transfer. NO ONE, and I mean NO ONE would run red lights then! OH, and this lady should have been given a ticket for driving too slow (just as much as a danger as speeding).

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    The local court was not interested in exploring whether the city had violated its own policies by shortening the yellow. On March 18, the court imposed a $135 CAD fine on Judy, reduced from the standard $190 fine.

    There’s the problem, right there. If the city states that the yellow must be four seconds, and it’s shorter than that, and it can be proven, then the court is wrong. If the traffic court doesn’t want to hear it, then there’s all sorts of options available to escalate the issue. It takes money, time and effort, but such is the way of democracy.

    That said, we’re talking a tenth of a second, here. She, in “spirit of the law” terms, ran the red, especially if she entered the intersection 0.1 seconds after it turned from yellow to red. That’s nearly four seconds after it first went yellow, which even in winter—and unless she’s insane enough to drive in Winnipeg without snow tires—is enough time to stop your car, especially if you’re “going slowly”.

    If she were in court against an officer instead of a camera, she’d have no hope at all.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    The yellow should be 2 seconds; with ZERO seconds between the red/green transfer. NO ONE, and I mean NO ONE would run red lights then!

    Study after study proves your argument to be false. Compliance rates are higher when yellow light times are at the higher end of the curve, and fall when the light times are shortened. There is no evidence to support your position at all.

  • avatar
    martymcfly

    PCH 101: no evidence except for half of europe that does this and NO ONE runs lights (i know, i’ve been there, have friends there, we’ve talked about it.) and the people that dont listen – die. word will get around fast!

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    People run the lights because they know the yellow is 4 seconds long. PLUS there’s a 3 second pause between the time it turns red – and the other direction gets their “green”. People know they have 7 seconds to RUN THE LIGHT. The yellow should be 2 seconds; with ZERO seconds between the red/green transfer.

    That’s asking for accidents, perhaps fatal ones, especially at the initial implementation of such timings. What would be better, aside from tire spikes that blow out anyone going into the intersection late, would be signed cameras, visible countdown timers and 100% enforcement.

    The problem, either way, is that people don’t know the rules and aren’t sure if they’re being enforced. Remove the ambiguity and you remove the problem.

  • avatar
    MikeInCanada

    Re martymcfly:

    “people that dont listen – die. word will get around fast!”

    We’ve been practicing that kind of natural selection for the past 40 years in North America and it has not worked – in fact, word has ‘gotten around fast’ and it still has not made a difference.

    Standards for driving competence continue to decline, people continue to do stupid things and subsequently kill themselves and those around them.

    Cars – and trucks have been engineered to be safer – but people have not changed their (bad) habits.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    no evidence except for half of europe that does this and NO ONE runs lights

    Sorry, but your anecdotes don’t prove anything and can’t be substantiated.

    Also, like you, I’ve been there, have friends there, and have observed no such thing.

    The Austrians take things even further. Before the yellow light begins, there is a several second warning that the light is about to turn yellow. (The yellow light flashes several times, then goes to a solid yellow, before the light turns red.) So in effect, they have even longer intervals than we do.

  • avatar
    menno

    I agree with the obvious; those who make the rules for the rest of us should actually obey the rules themselves. Otherwise eventually, nobody obeys any rules and you have anarchy at its worst.

    As for red lights, I’ve lived in the UK and few people run red lights (though I’m sure it is increasing over the years there as it has here, I have no such evidence other than anecdotal).

    As for duration of yellow – longer is better. Standardized between cities, provinces and states would be better still.

    Why a long yellow? Because the way the p*ss poor drivers on this continent drive, you often HAVE to run the yellow. If you don’t, the 3 people behind you, tailgating one another, will run over the top of you if you try to stop.

    That’s why.

    Now, if the police started to stop folks for following too closely – and give out tickets (after having kept video evidence), THIS would go a long way towards adding safety to the roads.

    About 5 years ago, while teaching son #2 to drive, we saw 3 cars bunched up going the other way, in a place where there was 1 lane for our direction, 2 for the other.

    Car #1 was just driving along, car #2 as a MARKED POLICE CAR about 5′ from his bumper, car #3 was a civilian driving about 5′ from the cop’s bumper. At 55 or 60 mph (in a 55 zone).

    I commented to my son – don’t know who is more STUPID in that scenario; the cop, who’s supposed to be not only enforcing the law, but actually obeying it too… or the idiot tailgating the cop!

    While carpooling with a friend and colleague a few years ago, she would make me quite nervous because she’d chronically tailgate (while driving a very tippy, tall center of gravity Nissan Pathfinder on slick roads). I gently broached the subject of ‘following distances’ (not making any rude remarks) and she said “yea, I’m not nearly as good a driver as Fred, my husband; he can follow folks MUCH closer than I can.”

    With a mindset like that being so self-evident every time you go down the road and watch how folks drive, how can good drivers be safe on North American roads?

  • avatar
    Airhen

    One word: Revenue (not Safety).

  • avatar
    martymcfly

    PCh101 – Cant be substantiated?? I guess you know everything and visited the same countries that I did and somehow didnt notice the shorter yellows. That or you went to different countries. There are few over there afterall. Oh, Cuba called – they need a new dictator that knows everything!

  • avatar
    Pch101

    I guess you know everything and visited the same countries that I did and somehow didnt notice the shorter yellows.

    Put five people in a room, and you get six conflicting anecdotes.

    You need to do your research, and stop relying on your unquantified, unverifiable gut feelings. The research on this subject is clear — longer yellow lights increase compliance, shorter ones reduce it.

    The Austrians (they are Europeans, aren’t they?) apparently agree so much that they use an additional signal to warn people that the light is going to turn yellow. I guess that they don’t have the same friends you do.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    I love this. Businesses like “big oil” are greedy and evil because they put their profits before the needs of poor people who need an affordable way to get to work.

    OTOH, public officials who consistently do things like this, which put lives at risk so that they can have an easier time doing their jobs (ya, they don’t even get to keep the money, it’s just so they don’t have to make tough decisions), are supposedly going to do a better job running an economy.

    Let’s all agree. People do stupid things. Businesses and government are run by people. Mixing up what is best done by government and business leads to even MORE stupidity. Governments are not businesses and we should not privatize everything. Businesses are not governments, and they shouldn’t be over regulated or supported by government so that they become public institutions.

  • avatar
    tedward

    martymcfly

    What about people who run red lights because they were stranded in the intersection trying to make a turn (in my experience by far the largest group)? Shortening the yellows gives the oncoming traffic less chance to clear the box and open up a right of way for them…leaving more people trapped sideways against green light traffic.

    Not to mention the fact that you’d be shortening people’s braking distances and reaction windows, even for a straight-in red light stop. At anything over 30mph deciding wether its safe to stop or not is a very fair safety question. Shortening that time just gives everyone less chance to make the call properly.

    But those common sense arguments really pale beside the evidence that lengthening yellows reduces red light violations and accident rates. In the face of that you’d have to put up a damn good argument if you want to advocate a position that would apparently increase the total number of accidents, traffic violations and injuries based on what the numbers tell us now.

  • avatar
    martymcfly

    Tedward: Give an inch – people will take a mile. Give 7 seconds, they’ll run the light. no punishment = break the law.

    If ‘on the spot’ execution was the result for breaking any law, like ‘jaywalking’. Would YOU Jaywalk? I doubt it! Not a great society – but it would be civil.

    Personally – when i approach a green light – I always look at the crosswalk sign. If i see the white walking picture – I continue as is. If I see a flashing red hand – I get off the gas – even though the light is still green (wont be for long). I know everyone is not as thoughtful as me – most are just absorbed in getting home 20 seconds earlier like it’ll make a difference. I like to just get home so that my kids can still have a dad. And so other people still have their mom & dad too.

  • avatar
    PeregrineFalcon

    Rather than bandying about anecdotes, how about some actual evidence?

    Texas Transportation Institute, 2004
    “An increase in yellow duration of 1.0 seconds is associated with a [crash frequency] of about 0.6, which corresponds to a 40 percent reduction in crashes.”
    Summary – Full Article

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    mcflyyy, MCFLY!
    I am a big fan of social darwinism, but I would prefer that those eliminated be the violators, not the people smart enough to follow the rules who collide with them.

    I also happen to know that stupid civilizations give way to smarter, wiser ones. How about we not let the government kill off people to avoid making tough budget decisions. That’s not the behavior of a civilization that will thrive and survive.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Rather than bandying about anecdotes, how about some actual evidence?

    What are you trying to do, destroy the internet?

  • avatar
    wsn

    MikeInCanada :
    April 2nd, 2009 at 11:01 am

    “people that dont listen – die. word will get around fast!”

    We’ve been practicing that kind of natural selection for the past 40 years in North America and it has not worked – in fact, word has ‘gotten around fast’ and it still has not made a difference.

    ————————————————

    Natural selection always works. It’s just that the selection mechanism is very sophisticated.

    It’s more like this:
    1) people that run lights will have a slightly higher tendency to die
    2) people who drive safer cars will have a reduced tendency to die
    3) people who die after they have children still pass their “run the light” gene to the next generation; only those without children are “filtered out”.
    4) with our social welfare in place, the above mentioned children’s survival is not too severely impacted.
    … and so on …

    And you can see, if the impact of (1) is significantly smaller than (2)~(4), then it doesn’t show. Only when other factors are stable (i.e. car safety plateaus and doesn’t improve), then we will have an observable “natural selection”. And that will still take multiple centuries.

  • avatar
    wsn

    Landcrusher :
    April 2nd, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    I am a big fan of social darwinism, but I would prefer that those eliminated be the violators, not the people smart enough to follow the rules who collide with them.

    I also happen to know that stupid civilizations give way to smarter, wiser ones. How about we not let the government kill off people to avoid making tough budget decisions. That’s not the behavior of a civilization that will thrive and survive.

    ———————————————–

    Landcrusher, I am a big fan of Darwinism too (“social Darwinism”, I believe, is Darwinism in a certain context).

    However, I think you misunderstood certain aspects of modern Darwinism. For instance, you seem to believe in group selection, which I don’t. I suggest that you read “The Selfish Gene”, if you haven’t already.

    Of course, you are entitled to believe whatever you want to believe. I just thought you may actually enjoy that book.

  • avatar
    tedward

    martymcfly

    “If ‘on the spot’ execution was the result for breaking any law, like ‘jaywalking’. Would YOU Jaywalk? I doubt it! Not a great society – but it would be civil.”

    I’m not going to feign outrage at this or anything…I love inflamatory examples. However, I’d disagree with the premise that jacking up penalties always results in a positive change in behaviour. I will acknowledge that in most cases it’s the easiest way to acheive a short term goal, but there are plenty of examples of unintended consequences. When states elevated crack cocaine possesion penalties to the point where you might as well try to shoot the officer that saw your crack-cocaine…people did. Cops stopped putting themselves in positions where that was going to happen (when by themselves) and enforcement consistency suffered. Oddly enough, law&order drug war fetishists never seem to discuss this type of failure. Just to be clear, I am fully aware of how overly-dramatic that example is.

    I agree with your 7 second example though, I had a light in the park near my house that had a kooky yellow time for awhile and, during the week or two is was very long, I’d see it yellow and continue to accelerate from some distance, just because I thought it would last forever. I was fully aware of how dumb this likely was. 7 seconds is on the ridiculous end of the spectrum though, the real issue seems to be decided by 1 or 2 second increases that just give enough time for better reactions.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    I’d disagree with the premise that jacking up penalties always results in a positive change in behaviour.

    As you should. McFly is simply repeating a commonly held misconception about driving, namely that penalties matter.

    This stuff has been researched to death, and he’s wrong. The findings are consistent: people are more motivated by the likelihood of being caught, than they are by the penalties that are imposed when they are caught. In practice, people tend to ignore rules that they don’t like when they believe that they won’t be punished. The punishment is less important than the odds.

  • avatar
    SkiD666

    In Alberta, the law has just been changed to allow speeding tickets from red light cameras. By this summer, they will start enforcing it.

    So, if someone speeds up to make a yellow light and doesn’t make it before it turns red, they would have to pay $287 for the red light violation plus at least $89 for speeding @ 15 km/h over.

  • avatar
    RichardD

    martymcfly: If ‘on the spot’ execution was the result for breaking any law, like ‘jaywalking’. Would YOU Jaywalk? I doubt it! Not a great society – but it would be civil.

    Great! Let’s start by shooting all the bureaucrats who shorten yellows and otherwise break the law.

    There. Now that’s taken care of, we can repeal the executions law.

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    To Menno:

    I agree on the tailgating thing, and I try not to do it myself, however…

    I get frustrated whenever I try to leave a little more space between the car in front and myself, only to have an SUV, bus, service vehicle, van, “old man in a hat driving a Buick or Grand Marquis” or other large, lumbering, vision-blocking vehicle move into that space.

    Then they SLOW DOWN.

    This hacks me off to no end. I’d rather follow the car in front closer, especially if it’s just a “car” and I can see the road through his rear window and windshield.

    This is MUCH safer for me than following a large, non-transparent vehicle; or a vehicle being driven by somebody who obviously has poorer vision, response time, or otherwise less road-fitness.

    So yes, I will move up to close that space a bit when I see an SUV getting ready to cherrypick it and cut me off.

    Gotta look out for myself; sorry!

  • avatar
    Gunit

    Simple, yellow means stop, anyone that doesn’t should get a ticket. And she needs a ticket for driving to slow.

    “The punishment is less important than the odds.” If this is true, the guarantee of getting caught by a camera should be a very strong deterrent.

  • avatar

    Apparently, these “shorten the yellow lights, fine or kill them all, and let corrupt traffic courts sort them out” folks haven’t read anything about The Dilemma Zone, which is a special area leading up to the intersection where you have to make the split second decision whether to stop or go through the light. Oh, and by the way, it’s been shown that short-yellows completely short you on decision making time, meaning unless you start braking on green, you’re running the light! You don’t have enough time to safely react, and these traffic wankers (politicians and engineers) know it!

    Also, this blog post makes me want to link to one of my favorite songs, it’s by The Weakerthans, called “One Great City!” and features the chorus: “I hate Winnipeg.” Here you go.

  • avatar
    nikita

    “Simple, yellow means stop”

    In what jurisdiction? Yellow means caution in the California Vehicle Code and probably every similar document on the planet.

  • avatar
    wsn

    SexCpotatoes :
    April 2nd, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    Oh, and by the way, it’s been shown that short-yellows completely short you on decision making time, meaning unless you start braking on green, you’re running the light!

    ——————————————–

    Yeah, I totally agree.

    Let’s consider an extreme case, say the speed limit is 100mph, and the yellow light duration is 1 second. Is it even possible for a human being to react properly?

    Of course not.

    We need to recognize several fact:

    1) You can not just blame someone who ran a light. From the above example, we agree that 1 second is too short. But isn’t it possible that 3 seconds are still too short and 5 could be better?

    2) A rule doesn’t make sense, if 70% of the population are offending. We should define the law such that offenders only represent a minority of population.

    3) Police does have a monetary incentive to lower the duration.

    Given the above 3 points, I propose a better system:

    1) Define that there are x% of the population that are either reckless or incapable drivers. (x determined by referendum)

    2) Adjust the duration of the yellow such that exactly x% of all cars run the light.

    3) If more than x% are caught, police doesn’t get to keep the fines over the x% mark.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    Now, if the police started to stop folks for following too closely – and give out tickets (after having kept video evidence), THIS would go a long way towards adding safety to the roads.

    Michigan should do this. We could eliminate our budget deficit by next Tuesday.

    “If ‘on the spot’ execution was the result for breaking any law, like ‘jaywalking’. Would YOU Jaywalk? I doubt it! Not a great society – but it would be civil.”

    If there were any truth to this notion – that harsh penalties = better compliance, then states with capital punishment would have much lower murder rates than states w/o. 2 minutes on Google will show you that this is not the case and in fact several states with above average murder rates have capital punishment.

    (And no, I don’t want to get into a protracted debate on the death peanalty)

  • avatar
    wsn

    “If ‘on the spot’ execution was the result for breaking any law, like ‘jaywalking’. Would YOU Jaywalk? I doubt it! Not a great society – but it would be civil.”

    That’s how Japanese troops dealt with Chinese residents peeing in the streets (in China) during WW2. The Japanese were guerrilla attacked constantly, and pretty much worn down even before the American nukes took effect.

    You know, when you execute people for jaywalking or “jay-peeing”, the risk of sneak attacks are no longer substantially higher. And so why not.

    The right policy would say “you will lose something, if you violate.” But don’t make people have nothing to lose.

  • avatar
    wsn

    Dynamic88 :
    April 3rd, 2009 at 3:05 am

    If there were any truth to this notion – that harsh penalties = better compliance, then states with capital punishment would have much lower murder rates than states w/o. 2 minutes on Google will show you that this is not the case and in fact several states with above average murder rates have capital punishment.

    —————————————–
    Maybe those states adopted capital punishment as a result of higher murder rates. Also, the murders may have a lower degree of education, they may not even know if their state has a capital punishment in place.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Maybe those states adopted capital punishment as a result of higher murder rates. Also, the murders may have a lower degree of education, they may not even know if their state has a capital punishment in place.

    That may be true, but that isn’t the issue.

    McFly above is arguing that a stringent level of punishment is a deterrent to future crime.

    If true, we would expect states with stringent penalties to have lower violation rates than they otherwise would. It would provide some confirmation if we saw that their rates fell more quickly than they did elsewhere.

    This isn’t the case. There is no correlation evident. In Dynamic’s example, a state such as Texas should see their rates plunging, the situation much better than it had been previously, and they should be outperforming other similar areas that lack the penalty, yet that has not happened. No above average or improved performance –> no correlation –> irrelevant policy.

  • avatar
    frizzlefry

    I got a ticket for running a yellow light once. Never knew that was a law. I was running late for a flight and this woman in front of me was driving 20km under the speed limit and stopped at a green light because she could not decide which way to turn. She finally turned and as she did the light turned yellow. I was stopped but decided to go through the yellow light. My bad. A cop pulled me over, said I ran the yellow and gave me a 150 dollar ticket. After I got my ticket he said “I could have given you a ticket for running a red you know. That fine is double.” He “could” have implies he thought about doing it even though he agreed that it was a yellow I ran.

    I would like the red light camera system if it was fair and honest. But the camera can’t randomly be a jerk and throw red light tickets at yellow runners here and there because the photo evidence would prove otherwise…so they just shorten the yellow times to increase the red light tickets. Traffic enforcement was a cash cow before the cameras, it was just executed a different way.

  • avatar
    lprocter1982

    Martymcfly: Winnipeg already has instead light changes. The first time I was there, I kept getting surprised by how quickly the red changed to green. So unless Winnipeg’s changed it in the past 2 years, it’s still that way.

  • avatar
    volvo

    Great link to the “dilemma zone” article. Yes it is true that you have 3 choices as outlined in the article and all are bad.

    There are a few red light cameras in the area where I live. If I find that I have to drive on one of these streets and I am being followed by another vehicle I choose to drive about 10mph under the posted limit as I approach the intersection with a camera. That gives me time to stop without engaging in a “panic stop” and reduces the likelihood of being rear ended.

    There are increasing numbers of red light cameras in San Francisco but at most of these intersections the walk/don’t walk signals have countdown timers. That is a great help in determining when the yellow is going to appear and allows one to prepare for the light change in advance.

  • avatar
    frizzlefry

    After reading the dilemma zone commentary:

    good thing I now have a sports sedan that can stop on a time. SUV and Truck drivers get ready to pay up!

  • avatar
    ryanodubhda

    As a delivery driver these cameras are not my friend. I’m not some speed demon who enjoys speeding but on occasion I find I am going faster than I should be and I slow down when I catch myself. That dreaded flash means a day’s wages down the drain. I think the fine is way too much for the common Joe to afford and with winter coming it means a lot of people jamming there brakes on in slippery intersections to avoid the ticket and putting themselves and others into harm’s way.
    A friend of mine here in Winnipeg sells these GPS Units that warns you of all red light Camera’s as well as potential mobile Camera’s (The guys with the Camera’s in there vehicles). The most important thing it warns you of is to slow down in school zones. I think this is where it counts the most. The “totally legal” units cost 150 bucks which is less than one ticket. I’ve had a demo for 6 months now and I’m ticket free. Ill actually have some money to buy Xmas gifts this winter.
    I can’t do without it now.
    Here is my friends Website.       Cheers
     
     https://www.navalert.com/store/product.php?productid=16413&partner=ryanodubhda


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