California: Longer Yellows Nearly Eliminate Violations

The Newspaper
by The Newspaper
california longer yellows nearly eliminate violations

Redflex Traffic Systems of Australia succeeded last week in blocking efforts to end red light camera ticketing in Loma Linda, California. While several members of the city council expressed a desire to uproot the automated ticketing machines, Redflex insisted that could not be done unless the city paid $534,558 in early termination penalties. The council declined to take any action at its February meeting.

The problems began after the city extended the duration of yellow lights in November. This engineering enhancement reduced the number of straight through violations to drop to near zero with the consequence that only citations for rolling right-hand turns remained. With a pricetag of $456 for each of these citations, the council had been hit with complaints about such a stiff fine for a type of violation that does not cause accidents.

“I have received a number of complaints and emails from individuals,” Councilman Ovidu Popescu said. “They teach you in business that for one complaint, that’s at least ten individuals who are very upset.”

Popescu and Councilman Rhodes Rigsby led the charge to terminate the camera contract immediately because the program enraged constituents without providing any safety benefit.

“I’m not sure the statistics when it comes to auto accidents — it doesn’t show a decrease in accidents,” Rigsby said. “If we’re going to fine our visitors and our citizens $12 or $14 million over four years, we should at least expect a safety benefit, and I just don’t see it.”

The council, on the other hand, was extremely pleased with the results of lengthening yellow lights by one second in November. The number of left-turn violations dropped 80 to 85 percent from about 240 monthly violations to about 25 or 30 a month immediately after the change. Straight through violations were reduced 92 percent.

“Lengthening yellow lights has produced a tremendous drop in violations,” Rigsby said. “The statistics from January are very telling. For four intersections, there were five straight through violations in total. That is tremendous improvement in safety. We’re talking about huge success of lengthening the yellow lights… We could have had that safety with lengthening the yellow four years ago instead of installing red light cameras.”

Councilman Floyd Petersen wanted to know why city staff never tried lengthening yellow before.

“Councilman Rigsby brought up the issue and pushed on it really hard,” Petersen said. “We have a whole profession out there called traffic engineers. We pay these people a lot of money to figure out the best way to set up the lights. Where are these people? Why haven’t they ever suggested lengthening the yellow light? What’s the deal? They aren’t being paid off by the camera people, are they?”

City staff defended the idea of keeping the cameras and endorsed short yellows.

“If you lengthen the yellow light, you reduce the green light,” Public Works Director T. Jarb Thaipejr said. “So then I will get a call from someone who said, ‘I waited so long at the red light.’ The whole idea of traffic engineering is to move the traffic.”

Popescu vowed to bring early termination to a vote next month. The contract will expire on its own in December.

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4 of 8 comments
  • Segfault Segfault on Feb 22, 2010

    I thought that the studies regarding lengthening yellows suggested that, in the long-term, people adjusted to the longer yellows, and began running the lights again.

    • See 1 previous
    • Russycle Russycle on Feb 22, 2010

      I had the same thought as segfault. Not sure if I've ever seen any studies, but it's human nature to push the limits. It's not at all unusual around here to see people running lights after they turned red, ie my light turns green, and some jackass comes barreling through the red because he thought he could make the yellow and was going too fast to stop once the light turned. Best solution is to extend the yellow and keep the redlight cameras, so people aren't tempted to keep pushing the limit. Of course, you won't make much revenue that way, so camera companies definitely aren't interested, nor are those council members who see these as a budget panacea.

  • Roger b. Roger b. on Feb 23, 2010

    I am from Southern California, but I have been living in Europe for almost 5 years now (only 6 months to go until I am back in the sun), currently in Denmark. I really like the long yellows they have followed by the all red period of about 2 seconds. It makes driving very stress free. Even when you are driving your non-snow-tired car in the 2 inches of fresh snow, you know that you will have time to clear the intersection before someone comes roaring at you. But, the thing I like most is how short the light cycles are. If you miss a green light, you know that you will only have to sit there for about 30 to 40 seconds, so why run the red light? In the US, you may be sitting there for 2 to 3 minutes. I know that I am much more tempted to run red lights in the US because of this. We need to do away with all of the controlled left turn lanes that just add needless time to each cycle.

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