By on June 13, 2011

The amount of yellow warning time at California intersections would drop along with speed limits under a bill being considered by the state legislature. The Senate Transportation Committee will hold a hearing Tuesday on Assembly Bill 529, a proposal that re-writes the state’s speed trap law so that cities would be able to round down all speed limits after conducting a traffic study. The measure passed the full Assembly by a 77 to 0 vote on May 19.

California has a strict rule prohibiting the use of radar guns on roads where the speed limit has not been established according to the 85th percentile speed of traffic. Engineering studies have shown that using this means of setting the limit at the prevailing speed of free-flowing traffic provides for maximum safety. Municipalities dislike this requirement because it limits their ability to set lower speed limits and rely instead on heavy police enforcement.

Under current law, jurisdictions must set the speed limit at 35 MPH if the study shows traffic is moving at, for example, 34 MPH. The limit must be rounded to the nearest 5 MPH increment. A locality can only reduce the limit to 30 MPH if it can document a specific safety hazard that is not readily apparent to drivers. The proposed legislation would allow municipalities to lower that speed limit to 30 MPH without any justification needed by rounding down 5 MPH. The rounding change will be made in California’s manual on uniform traffic control devices, which also establishes the minimum duration of yellow timing based upon the posted speed limit.

A city that lowers its 35 MPH speed limits to 30 MPH may also legally shorten its yellow times from 3.6 seconds to 3.2 seconds. While this 0.4 second difference may seem minor, it would generate a significant amount of additional revenue from red light camera tickets that run between $450 to $505 each. The Texas Transportation Institute concluded in 2004 that yellows shorter by a second than the ITE recommended amount generated a 110 percent jump in citations (view report). The vast majority of those extra violations happened within the first 0.25 seconds (see chart).

If passed by the committee Tuesday and adopted by the state Senate, the bill would go to Governor Jerry Brown (D) for his signature. A copy of the legislation is available in a PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Assembly Bill 529 (California State Legislature, 5/3/2011)


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18 Comments on “California Considers Bill to Shorten Yellow Times...”

  • avatar

    The 85th percentile speed requirement makes tons of sense. The proposed changes make tons of dollars…there is the answer, period. If you want to make safety the only reason for this nonsense, you need to remove the profit motive. Instead of the fines being given to the state, have them donated to the violators’ charity of choice. Now the ONLY reason to have cameras or traps is safety. And cash back to parasitical companies like ATS should be illegal.

  • avatar

    Throw the bums out!

    This is more of turning honest folks into criminals in order to soak them for fines, fees and penalties.

    Instead of dealing with their budgets like adults by saying “we can’t afford all this”, they embrace immoral ways of grabbing additional revenue.

    Such behaviour has a corrosive effect on people’s respect of and for politicians and the civil service. If this trend is not checked, it tears the fabric of society.

    Throw those bums out.

    p.s. It would be interesting to see who sponsored this bill, and if s/he received campaign contributions from ATS-like companies (and then to see how many of the other politicians voting yes received, and how much, from ATS-like companies…)

    • 0 avatar

      I agree with you. Although if tax had not been turned into a four letter word by some we probably wouldn`t be in the position of having fees and fines trying to make up some of the difference.

  • avatar

    Governments and Corporations should not be able to use law enforcement as a source of revenue. It encourages corruption.

    I don’t know, maybe fines should be replaced by ‘community service’ or something like that, but mixing revenue/profit making with enforcement/punishment seems like an inherently bad idea.

    • 0 avatar

      Exactly, it is a huge conflict of interest using “law enforcement” to generate revenue. Why not just send the cops into homes to steal all the money out of your wallets and purses and stop pretending by playing these traffic “safety” games.

      • 0 avatar

        The great writer Robert Sheckley wrote a short story (Ticket to Tranai) about a supposed paradise which had no taxes. Not long after arriving there, the protagonist is robbed at gunpoint. While complaining about this to a resident, he is asked what color the robber’s hat was. “Why?” asked the victim. “If he was wearing a black hat, he was in it for himself. A white hat means he was from the government”. Responding to the confused look, the resident said “The money has to come from somewhere.”

      • 0 avatar

        I actually agree that the money has to come from somewhere. Simple, up-front taxation (which I willingly pay here in Canada) is far preferable to this kind of disingenuous and potentially dangerous revenue stream.

      • 0 avatar

        We’re already one of the two highest taxed states in the nation. The problem is where the taxes are going. I also wonder about the mythical ‘good cops.’ Did they sign up just to shake down commuters? Being nothing more than arbitrary tax collectors doesn’t help them with the bashing their image is taking from being a bunch of union protected rapists.

  • avatar
    Sgt Beavis

    I wonder how many people are going to die as a result of this money grab.

  • avatar

    What this article doesn’t mention is what Sgt Beavis alluded to: when the yellow light time is shortened the number of accidents at these intersections can increase dramatically. We saw this here in Charlotte when red light cameras were in use. Once the cameras went away and the yellow light times were returned to normal the rate of accidents decreased. IIRC, the only way we got rid of the cameras was due to the diligence of some folks who discovered that the revenue, which was supposed to go to local schools, was instead being rerouted to other “projects”. The judge hearing the case threw the cameras out based on this technicality.

    • 0 avatar

      Anytime you’ve got a program like this or like the lottery supposedly funding the schools or state parks or something popular, you need to ask whether the state was going to be paying for that program anyway. If so, they can simply fund the program less thanks to the extra income from red light cameras/casinos/lottery/televised prisoner deathmatches, and have more money to spend anywhere else. In other words, it’s a scam, where they take a controversial or unpopular program and tie it to something everyone can get behind. But really, they get the extra revenue to spend on whatever they like once they push the piles around a little.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    At least have a little truth-in-packaging here: this is a “random tax” having nothing to do with safety.

    What was the proffered justification for shortening the duration of the yellow? I can’t believe anyone could say “safety” with a straight face.

  • avatar

    Lessee… this story reminded me of something… what was it again?

  • avatar

    A lawyer won a traffic case in Santa Rosa, CA, based on the 85th percentile rule. He received a ticket for going 40 in a 30 zone. He showed that the traffic study conducted there demonstrated an 85th percentile speed of 38 mph (I believe), and the judge ruled in his favor. Seems to me that cities have probably already been ignoring the regulations as I find it hard to believe that this one street in Santa Rosa was the only location where the speed limit was set arbitrarily.

  • avatar

    Today’s noon news: Kirkland, WA sends teams of high school students out into streets with radar guns to document the tidal wave of evil speeders taking over the city. Reports will be generated to document where additional traffic enforcement will improve safety.

    What was not talked about nor never will be, is how many of these sites have the speed limit set below the 85th percentile, the point identified in 1940 and ’41, where traffic is the safest. Based on several “WOW! LOOK! SIX MILES OVER THE LIMIT!!!” comments, increasing the speed limit 5mph would make the “problem” vanish.

    Unfortunately, this political stunt will come off as intended with nobody the wiser.

  • avatar

    The FHWA has a checklist how to correct intersections were red light violations appear to be a problem. Installing traffic cameras appears nowhere on this list.

    Simply adding one second to the yellow and stop being so technically literal in this imperfect world with legal turn on red stops eliminates those problems without causing new problems like the cameras do.

  • avatar

    $500 for a red light ticket?! Are you freaking kidding me??!! That is INSANE. Same would go for a speeding ticket. Prob be 6 over a low set limit.

    You know, people are evil. Must punish them.

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