Shorting the Yellow

Recently by Eric Peters: When America Went Crazy      

Ever get the feeling that traffic lights stay yellow for shorter intervals than they used to?

Turns out, you’re not imagining it.

Yellow intervals have been shortened at traffic lights in many areas around the country, courtesy of the government officials responsible for writing national transportation guidelines. Some signals stay yellow only about 70 percent as long as they did 15 years ago. And here’s a curious thing: The change in signal timing intervals coincides with the much-discussed rise in the incidence of red light-running.

Put another way, more people are getting caught in the middle of an intersection after the light has changed from yellow to red. Is it a coincidence that decreased yellow timing and “red light running” track together?

Certainly, there are people who deliberately run red lights – irrespective of the yellow interval. These are the jerks who enter an intersection when the light is already red. But the majority are people who entered the intersection when the light was still yellow – but didn’t get through before it cycled to red. Many probably decided that they could not come to a stop safely (and without risking being rear-ended by the car behind them) before the light transitioned from yellow to red.

So they keep on going – because of the shortened yellow interval, which gives them neither time to stop safely nor enough time to clear the intersection before the light changes.

They “run” the light.

And, if there’s a camera around, they’ll get a ticket in the mail a week or so later.

But does short-sheeting yellow intervals improve safety – or just the county’s revenue stream?

Given that there’s a delay before the opposing traffic gets a green light, cars entering the intersection on yellow (but going red before they clear it) will get through the intersection before there’s a safety issue.

But there is a monetary issue – and it’s the key to understanding the eagerness with which so many county and state governments have embraced red light cameras.

Shorter yellow intervals tracks with the adoption of automated red light camera enforcement systems – which have become money-fountains for state and local governments that use this technology – as well as for the private companies that typically share in the “revenue” collected. The government of the District of Columbia, for example, has estimated that it will take in some $16 million dollars annually via red light camera enforcement.

A pretty good scam, eh?

But it’s not making the roads any safer.

Restoring longer yellow intervals would do much more to address the manufactured “crisis” of red light-running than setting up red light cameras – and it would do the job without fleecing motorists and placing us all under the unblinking eye of constant government surveillance.

Example: When the city of Mesa, Arizona, added about a second of yellow time to traffic lights at several intersections, there was a 73 percent reduction in red light entries – and a major drop in accidents. The city subsequently ditched the automated cameras it has used previously to monitor the intersection and (of course) send out automated tickets for red light running.

As with the loathsome 55-mph “National Maximum Speed Limit” – which morphed from a supposed energy-saving policy into a “safety” issue the moment it became clear there was a fortune to be mined in the form of “speeding” tickets, the red light-running “crisis” is about money and government power – period.

Just as returning to higher lawful speed limits did not make the roads any less “safe” (accident and fatality rates have gone down following repeal of the 55-mph limit in 1995) adding a second or more to the time a light stays yellow could very likely put a bigger dent in the problem of “red light running” than erecting ticket-spewing cameras at every intersection.

But the former won’t put any cash in the hands of government or the insurance cartel – while the latter is guaranteed to.

Guess which one the Clovers will support?

Reprinted with permission from