TAMPA, Florida - A change to the state's minimal yellow light intervals has resulted in huge drops in red light camera (RLC) revenue, according to records obtained by 10 Investigates. The findings come after more than 40 stories by 10 News focused on short yellow lights and other intersection injustices.
RLC critics and federal studies have stated short yellow lights don't give drivers enough time to safely react to a changing intersection signal. And prior to a June 2013 decision from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to extend yellow lights statewide, Florida had some of the most lucrative RLCs in the country.
But FDOT's June 2013 memo, prompted by a series of 10 Investigates stories, instructed cities and counties to extend the length of almost every yellow light at RLC intersections by Dec. 31. And while data is limited in the short time since some municipalities changed their lights, the data suggests a yellow light extension of even four-tenths of a second makes huge differences in how many drivers get tickets.
TIMELINE: 10 News' Short Yellows Investigation
MAP: Short Yellows in Your Neighborhood
In Tampa, the yellow lights on E. Hillsborough Ave. (westbound) at N. Nebraska Ave. were adjusted from 3.9 seconds to 4.8 seconds on Dec. 3. The result was an 79 percent drop in citations -- 52 violations issued in December, compared with a 259/month average through 2013's first 11 months.
Additionally, Tampa's camera at N. Florida Ave. (southbound) at W. Busch Blvd. was averaging 192 tickets issued a month through October 2013. But the light was extended from 3.0 seconds to 4.8 seconds on Nov. 1, and the city issued just 10 tickets total in November and just 12 tickets there in December. The drop at that one intersection represents nearly $30,000 a month in fines.
In Clearwater, where lights at the city's three monitored intersection approaches were adjusted in October, longer yellows meant a 67 percent drop in revenue. Before the extension, the cameras were averaging 899 violations a month; after the extensions, they averaged just 300 violations a month. The drop represents about $95,000 a month in fines, or about $45,000 in revenue to the city.
"It tells me that they were revenue generators," Pinellas Co. Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said of the cameras and drop in revenues. "Good public safety in law enforcement should never be a 'gotcha' situation.
St. Petersburg's southbound camera on 34th St. at 38th Ave. N saw its yellow light extended from 4.0 seconds to 4.4 seconds on Oct. 2. The camera averaged 250 tickets a month prior to the retiming and just 112 tickets a month after the timing. Additionally, right turn on red tickets could not be separated from St. Pete's data.
In Temple Terrace, the northbound camera on 56th St. at Riverhills saw a nearly 50 percent drop in revenue following its October retimings. And when Brooksville's yellow lights at Cobb and Jefferson (southbound) were extended in late June, citations plummeted from 150/month to just 56/month.
None of the dozens of intersections sampled by 10 Investigates showed any dramatic increases in violations following a yellow light lengthening.
If you got what you consider an inappropriate red light camera ticket, you can read 10 News' tips for fighting a ticket here. But beware, its difficult to win your appeal and it could cost you extra.
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