Florida Shortened Yellow Traffic Lights Below Federal Standards, Investigation Finds

Nathan Francis

Florida has shortened yellow traffic lights to below federal standards, resulting in an influx of revenue in the form of traffic tickets, a new investigation found.

The change in Florida traffic lights stemmed from a change in state policy at the Florida Department of Transportation, which changed the police on yellow-light intervals in 2011. The minimum time for yellow lights is now below federal standards, an investigation from WTSP News 10 Investigators found.

The times were reduced only by fractions of a second, but even a half-second difference can result in twice as many citations for running red lights, the investigation found.

The investigation started after reports of a "dangerously short yellow light" in Hernando County, Florida. After the story broke, the county promised to re-time all of its intersections.

The issue is compounded by the use of red light cameras, which have been criticized as unsafe and unfair to drivers. These cameras generated more than $100 million in revenue to the 70 communities in Florida using them. Just about half of that revenue --- 52.5 percent --- goes to the state, and the rest goes to cities, counties, and the companies operating the cameras.

"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."

Some communities are now speaking out against the shortened yellow traffic lights in Florida and the use of red light cameras.

"The number of things wrong with this story defy our ability to list them all in this space," an editorial in the Lebanon Daily News stated. "Worst is that the Florida standards were set below standards set by the federal government."

The editorial went on to question claims from Florida authorities that the shortened yellow traffic lights aren't about raising revenue.

"They're all doing it for the money. They're doing it because they believe people won't notice; it's a tiny change in terms of time, but machinery reacts far more swiftly than man, and the camera eye is always watching.

Officials were relying on no one noticing that there was some fiddling going on. Someone noticed. Good. But not so good for the many, many people ($100 million dollars worth) of those whose tickets might be due to government cheating."

The story of the shortened yellow traffic lights in Florida has since created a nationwide backlash against the state, leading to stories in publications across the country.