By on June 30, 2009

A group campaigning to eliminate photo enforcement in Arizona has forced Paradise Valley to admit that it has been shortchanging drivers. A volunteer with the group discovered the city used illegally short yellows at the intersection of Tatum Boulevard and McDonald Drive. The motorist was mailed a red light camera ticket for allegedly entering the intersection just 0.2 seconds after the light had turned red. “I was nailed with a ticket at an intersection that left me very perplexed because I didn’t think I was going to get a ticket,” David K. wrote on June 16. “I thought I was close enough to the intersection to pass the limit line before the light turned red. Well, I thought wrong because the duration for the yellow light on a 40 MPH speed limit road was only three seconds.”

David measured the other intersection approaches and found they used a four-second yellow. All of the engineering guidelines suggest a bare minimum of four seconds be used at intersections with a posted speed limit of 40 MPH. Wondering why the approach equipped with a camera had the shortest yellow, David called the city. The signal in question was re-timed to a duration of 4.3 seconds of yellow on the very next day. Paradise Valley is required to add the extra 0.3 seconds because of a curve in the road that affects signal visibility.

Another member named Shauna received a ticket while the signal was timed at three seconds.

“I am almost never in Paradise Valley, so was not at all familiar with the road or the length of the yellow lights,” Shauna wrote on June 20. “When I was flashed, I was shocked. I would have had to slam on my brakes — and I was actually driving slower than the speed limit — to stop for the yellow, and then all of a sudden, it was red, and the flash went off.”

Five days later, Shauna received notification that her ticket had been canceled. Altogether, 1063 motorists issued red light camera tickets between May 6 and June 16 will receive refunds if paid or have their citations canceled. Most have not paid. This represents a loss of $193,466 in potential revenue to the city.

The Texas Transportation Institute documented the importance of yellow timing in a 2004 report (view study). Cutting one second from the yellow time formula endorsed by the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) boosts violation income by 110 percent. Adding one extra second beyond the bare minimum allowed under the ITE formula slashed violations by 53 percent.

Lawmakers in the state of Georgia recognized the value of longer yellows with a law mandating one extra second. Since it took effect in January, violations plunged 80 percent and profit dropped to a level that has forced seven cities to cancel their photo enforcement contracts.

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7 Comments on “Arizona Group Forces Red Light Ticket Refund...”

  • avatar

    Wow. Supposedly, the red-light cameras are for “public safety.” But now the city goes out and changes light timings so as to double the amount of the danger. Looks like a lawsuit waiting to happen.

  • avatar

    I don’t think I have ever run a red in my life but with the red light cameras in place I am much more aware of the yellow ( I actually thought you would get a ticket if you entered the intersection on the yellow until recently). My main concern is getting hit in the rear so my personal solution to intersections with red light cameras is to get in the right lane and approach the intersection at 1/2 the posted speed limit. That way I don’t have to slam on the brakes and don’t have to worry as much about a shortened yellow.

    I still don’t understand what happens if you enter the intersection on the green or yellow and still are in the intersection when the light turns red. The question arose in my mind when I discovered a red light camera in New Orleans at a very wide intersection (Carrollton and Canal). Measured on google maps this intersection is 150 feet stop line to stop line. At the posted speed of 30mph (44ft/sec) it would take longer than 3 seconds to cross the intersection. If you want to speed up crossing the intersection that particular camera is a newgen combo red light/speed enforcement camera. :)

  • avatar

    I still don’t understand what happens if you enter the intersection on the green or yellow and still are in the intersection when the light turns red.

    It depends on your state. In California, for example, you must enter the intersection before the light turns red but are OK as long as you have the ability to continue through the intersection without blocking it during the red. In New Jersey (at least 20 years ago when I lived there) you must exit the intersection before the light turns red. (Note: this is a “layman’s” interpretation of the law.)

  • avatar

    Last I glanced at the rules here in BC you can enter the intersection on the yellow but not on the red. Furthermore, once in the intersection you have the right of way to proceed even after the light turns red (important to know while making left turns on busy streets). If you are waiting on a red and the light turns green any cross traffic that entered on a green needs to have cleared before you are allowed to proceed.

    There are specific signs up that direct you not to block the intersection if it’s something important, like a hospital emergency room or a street level train.

    I don’t remember specifics of when the intersection starts and when you are legally inside of it. I suppose that is information that I should know as a driver. I assume it’s back tire past the stop line so you can still get the hell off of the crosswalk once the light turns red, good luck with that though.

  • avatar
    johnny ro

    its not lost revenue in accounting terms. Since they were not really entitled to it the cash involved was “stolen”. Stolen funds do not qualify as revenue in normal accounting.

    although I am sure local police and politicians are gnashing teeth at
    -getting caught with this
    -having to give up their revenue

  • avatar

    In Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, and just about everywhere else I’ve driven, you are considered “in the intersection” once any part of your car crosses the forward plane of the solid “stop bar” painted on the ground. That is, BEFORE the crosswalk lines.

    Most cops won’t write you a ticket for having your bumper overhang the stop bar. But some red-light cameras will!

  • avatar

    If it’s all about safety and for the children make the yellow lights 5 seconds, add 1 second of additional red for all directions, and then give the green. Highly unlikely anyone would accidentally be in the precious intersection when the light was in mid stroke.

    But of course it’s once again NOT about safety, it’s about 200K in revenue so far. Some people think government should get all the money it can so the people can enjoy services and free shit but when it comes out of the pockets of working people, and sometimes jacks their car insurance rates accordingly, it becomes a bit much.

    Historically when new increased revenue sources are found there is no economizing but rather new spending is found for the windfall. Next comes the speed cameras and soon license plate recognition and user fees.

    I think a hinged license plate linked to a solenoid would be handy at this intersection. Upon approach activate the circuit just in case the light changes when you are in the zone. If it stays green, no harm no foul. If not, have a nice picture of bumper balls where the plate should be.

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