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6 Cities That Were Caught Shortening Yellow Light Times For Profit

Posted on March 26th, 2008 in , | 308 Comments

losttrafficlight Short yellow light times at intersections have been shown to increase the number of traffic violations and accidents. Conversely, increasing the yellow light duration can dramatically reduce red-light violations at an intersection.

Some local governments have ignored the safety benefit of increasing the yellow light time and decided to install red-light cameras, shorten the yellow light duration, and collect the profits instead.

Here are some of the cities that have been caught with short yellow light times over the past few years:

Important note: These news stories were collected from the archives of, an excellent resource for anyone interested in traffic laws and other motorist issues. If you subscribe to’s feed, you’ll never miss the latest news. It makes an excellent complement to this blog.

1) Chattanooga, Tennessee
The city of Chattanooga was forced refund $8800 in red light cameras tickets issued to motorists trapped by an illegally short yellow time. The refund only occurred after a motorist challenged his citation by insisting that the yellow light time of 3.0 seconds was too short. LaserCraft, the private vendor that runs the camera program in return for a cut of the profits, provided the judge with a computer database that asserted the yellow was 3.8 seconds at that location.

The judge then personally checked the intersection in question was timed at three seconds while other nearby locations had about four seconds of yellow warning. City traffic engineer John Van Winkle told Bean that “a mix up with the turn arrow” was responsible and that the bare minimum for the light should be 3.9 seconds.

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2) Dallas, Texas
An investigation by KDFW-TV, a local TV station, found that of the ten cameras that issued the greatest number of tickets in the city, seven were located at intersections where the yellow duration is shorter than the bare minimum recommended by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).

The city’s second highest revenue producing camera, for example, was located at the intersection of Greenville Avenue and Mockingbird Lane. It issued 9407 tickets worth $705,525 between January 1 and August 31, 2007. At the intersections on Greenville Avenue leading up to the camera intersection, however, yellows are at least 3.5 or 4.0 seconds in duration, but the ticket-producing intersection’s yellow stands at just 3.15 seconds. That is 0.35 seconds shorter than TxDOT’s recommended bare minimum. Dallas likewise installed the cameras at locations with existing short yellow times. A total of twenty-one camera intersections in Dallas had yellow times below TxDOT’s bare minimum recommended amount.

The ticket camera program in Dallas made the news recently for shutting down some of its cameras because they were no longer profitable.

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3) Springfield, Missouri
The city of Springfield, Missouri prepared for the installation of a red light camera system in 2007 by slashing the yellow warning time by one second at 105 state-owned intersection signals across the city.

The city defended its effort to the Springfield News-Leader by claiming it was “standardizing” and had increased the yellow time at 136 city-operated lights to meet national standards. During the city council meeting last October where the red light camera ordinance was approved, however, Assistant Director of Public Works Earl Newman gave a different explanation for the reduction. Newman said he was, “concerned that many individuals run the light if the light remained yellow too long.”

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4) Lubbock, Texas
KBCD, a local television station, exposed the city’s short timing of yellow lights at eight of the twelve intersections where the devices were to be installed.

Prior to the news investigation, Lubbock City Engineer Jere Hart assured city council members that he would not increase yellow times. According to the city council’s traffic commission minutes of September 19, 2006, Jere said, “if [the red light camera program is] implemented, the public would prefer to have an increased amber cycle,” but he stated that, “the program will not adjust the amber/yellow time.”

Shortly after the investigation became public, red-light cameras were installed in Lubbock. However, after they proved to be both unprofitable (due in part to a new state law giving 50% of the ticket camera profit to the state) and unsafe (accidents increased where the cameras were installed), they were taken down.

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5)Nashville, Tennessee
Even without red light cameras, police in Nashville, Tennessee have been earning hundreds of thousands in revenue by trapping motorists in conventional ticket traps at city intersections with the shortest yellow warning time.

In 2006, Nashville resident Joe Savage obtained the data on every red light running ticket issued on Broadway street since 2000. He said that yellow lights are longer at intersections along Broadway until the areas where police are issuing tickets. At those locations, Savage clocked the yellow signal time at less than 3 seconds, in violation of both state law and federal regulations. A local newspaper, The Nashville Scene, then confirmed his findings.

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6) Union City, California
In 2005, Union City, California was caught trapping motorists with a yellow signal time 1.3 seconds below the minimum established by state law. As a result, the city was forced to refund more than $1 million in red light camera fines.

The city’s violation came to light after Dave Goodson, an engineer, received a ticket and realized that he did not have sufficient time to stop before the light had turned red. As a result of his inquiries, Union City’s traffic engineers admitted that they had set the yellow signal time at Union City Boulevard and Lowry Road at 3 seconds, despite the state law mandating the time be 4.3 seconds or greater.

Authorities said that the yellow was too short long before the cameras were installed, but that no effective system was in place to verify the timing of the traffic signals despite their direct impact on safety.

Read the Full Story

Closing Notes:
These are only the cities that have been caught; it’s likely that this happens much more than the general public has been led to believe. Many cities avoid the bad publicity involved with shortening yellow lights by installing the cameras at intersections with inadequate yellow light times from the beginning.

If you or a family member receive an unjustified red-light violation ticket, it may be worth your time to check the yellow light duration at the intersection where the ticket was given out.

Also, if you know of any city currently shortening yellow lights in your area, let everyone know by posting it the comments of this post.

Image Credit: jaqian

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308 Responses to “6 Cities That Were Caught Shortening Yellow Light Times For Profit”

  1. hidngplace says:

    This is the partial letter I sent to city council in Marshall Texas
    When I received the ticket, I did some research. The light on that street is 3.8 seconds for a speed limit of 45 miles per hour. The institute of Transportation Engineers, the organization that sets national standards, recommends in speed zones of 45 miles per hour that the light be 5 seconds long. The Texas Transportation Institute study also found that shorter yellows generate a 110 percent jump in the number of tickets, but at the cost of safety. Increasing the yellow one second above the recommended minimum cut crashes by 40 percent. There are several stories of Dallas shortening lights so they could increase revenues in effect increasing read-end collisions. The report argues that any light in a 40-45 mph speed zone that has a yellow light at 4 seconds or less does so with the purpose of increasing income and nothing to do with safety. K.G.
    Because our tight budget cannot afford $75 fines, when I drive through Marshall, I will be hitting my

  2. […] obscuring signs warning of photo-enforcement, etc. We have already seen how local governments have shortened yellow-light times at intersections with stoplight cameras in an effort to generate more citations for running red […]

  3. misterfact says:

    Regarding Palmetto, Fla.

    Does anyone know if a blinking yellow light has been installed on the left turn signal on Rt301/41 southbound-just South of the Walmart, just beyond the overpass?

    I believe this is required according to the new national policy of requiring a blinking yellow at all permissable, unprotected left turns.

    If so, I am sure the carnage created by the Fla dot which has continued for the past 15 years-HAS ENDED !! (over 50 serious injury accidents at that location)


  4. darkstone2009 says:

    McMinnville, Oregon south end of town, one car and the green is less than 2 seconds, and yellow probably the same. Would need to time the complete set of lights…I go through and it yellow before I am halfway across, would turn to red soon after.

  5. […] we critics have impugned the motives of public officials is that several cities have been caught shortening yellow times at intersections after they’ve been outfitted with cameras. That would seem to be a pretty […]

  6. […] a fun read: 6 Cities That Were Caught Shortening Yellow Light Times For Profit […]

  7. […] Longer yellow lights at intersections have proven to increase safety, but some  cities shorten the yellow light to increase income from red light tickets. […]

  8. […] Which of course is why several cities have been caught making intersections more dangerous by shortening yellow lights in order to generate more tickets. Digg it |  reddit |  […]

  9. […] do not address the fact that longer yellow lights reduced accidents while Cameras increase them. 6 Cities That Were Caught Shortening Yellow Light Times For Profit Big boys need big toys. This is my new 2011 Harley Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Limited […]

  10. MADASHELL_CA says:

    I have personal knowledge that Del Mar, CA and San Diego, CA have intersections with short yellows. Both of the intersections listed are posted 45 mph. The California Manual For Uniform Traffic Devices has standards for minimum yellow light durations in various speed zones. For a 45 mph zone, the minimum yelliow interval is 4.3 seconds. At El Camino Real and Via de la Valle in Del Mar, southbound, the interval is only 3.5 seconds. At Aero Drive and Murphy Canyon Road, westbound, the interval is 3.6 seconds. At the Del Mar intersection, I personally timed the yellow for 10 cycles with a stopwatch. I did the same thing at the San Diego location. In addition, at the San Diego location, the fools have the interval printed right on the photos they mailed out with the violation notice. My personal opinion is that this practice is widespread. Shortening the yellow will increase the number of violations, and therefore the revenue. This whole camera operation is a racket, and the people that install them are basically criminals.

  11. […] purposely speed up the yellow to catch more people running the red. 6 Cities That Were Caught Shortening Yellow Light Times For Profit __________________ Leave the camera – Lose the LIGHT […]

  12. […] It turns discover that the municipality of metropolis embattled for the artefact of its flushed reddened camera grouping by slashing the chromatic warning instance by digit second at 105 crossing signals crossways the city.  A 2005 Texas Transportation Institute think had shown that a “one-second change in chromatic instance resulted in a 100% process in the sort of violations.” See City Lowers Yellow Light Time Before Installing Cameras. metropolis has been noted as digit of “6 Cities That Were Caught Shortening Yellow Light Times For Profit“ […]

  13. […] particularly in combination with red light cameras, are becoming more prevalent: 6 Cities That Were Caught Shortening Yellow Light Times For Profit and: Yellow Light Time Standards | Stop Short Yellow […]

  14. […] stoplight cameras showing up at more and more intersections, but local governments have been caught shortening the yellow-light time (which increases accident frequency even more) in order to generate more tickets. The latest city […]

  15. […] Originally Posted by Pif You know, I don't think people would have such a problem with them if they just followed the law… 6 Cities That Were Caught Shortening Yellow Light Times For Profit […]

  16. TheUltraworld says:

    Here in Orlando, intersections with red light cameras have an increase in rear end collisions. Drivers are trying to beat the cameras & running into vehicles ahead of them. The cameras are coming down

  17. […] to generate more revenue. Also, the primary objection behind red light cameras is that cities intentionally shorten the timespan of the yellow light so that more motorists are ticketable (damn the safety […]

  18. […] re-evaluate this program if in fact we are having more collisions," Councilman Zine said. 6 Cities That Were Caught Shortening Yellow Light Times For Profit Quote: 1) Chattanooga, Tennessee 2) Dallas, Texas 3) Springfield, Missouri 4) Lubbock, Texas […]

  19. […] caught filling their pockets with cash through a red light camera scheme are hardly a rare occurrence. In fact, shortening yellow lights below legal limits in order to increase the frequency of issuing […]

  20. […] old argument, “if you don’t run red lights, then you won’t get a ticket.”  Hogwash.  How many people can honestly say they’ve never been in the gray area at the beginning of a […]

  21. […] cameras. I found this interesting story about that subject. It is a couple years old, though. 6 Cities That Were Caught Shortening Yellow Light Times For Profit We don't have red light cameras in the city of Nashville, but it seems more and more of the towns […]

  22. […] red light running accidents fell, but rear-end accidents from abrupt stopping increased even more. compiled reports of six cities that had yellow lights that were shorter than they were supposed to […]

  23. […] Texas; Springfield, Missouri; Lubbock, Texas; Nashville, Tennessee; and Union City, California were found to have done exactly that prior to 2008. More recently, shortened yellow cycles at red-light camera controlled intersections were found in […]

  24. […] stopping from the posted limit. Interesting reading: Home – Fighting Red Light Camera Tickets 6 Cities That Were Caught Shortening Yellow Light Times For Profit Has your wife agreed to appear in court yet? I'd certainly spend some time learning your (her) […]

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