TAMPA BAY, Florida (WTSP) -- A subtle, but 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 10 News Investigators discovered 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 (RLCs).
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 percent 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."
The National Motorists Association identifies itself as a grassroots group that's been advocating for drivers since 1982. It fought the national 55 mph speed limit and is now campaigning against red light camera technology, contending the technology primarily targets safe drivers who are victims of short yellow lights or safely roll through right turns.
Proponents of the technology hang their hats on a reduction of serious accidents at RLC intersections. They also point out that every electronically generated violation is reviewed by a local police officer or sheriff's deputy before a citation is validated and sent to a driver. But questions about the fairness and constitutionality of RLCs linger, with questionable motivations of the state's yellow light reductions likely to add fuel to the fire.