We tested yellow lights at red light camera intersections and 75 percent were shorter than what's required by state law. According to one state lawmaker that could mean the difference between getting a ticket or not.
ATLANTA -- You go through an intersection, you see a flash in the rear view mirror. Chances are you just got caught running a red light and a camera snapped a photo of your license plate; expect a 70 dollar ticket in the mail! But was that ticket issued unfairly? We tested 9 of the top revenue producing red light camera intersections in Georgia and discovered they may not be in compliance with state law.
In 2008 red light cameras at 64 state intersections generated more than 14 million dollars in revenue.
Georgia State House Republican Barry Loudermilk told The Center for Investigative Action," In my opinion, it violates the 5th amendment." He says motorists are unable to fairly defend themselves against red light camera tickets.
So two years ago, Loudermilk tried to get rid of red light cameras in the state. He was unsuccessful but he did succeed in giving motorists more time to get through the intersection before the light turned red. The state passed a law to add a second to the yellow light times*(see study below). Shortly after, some jurisdictions like Lilburn started turning the cameras off because they just couldn't generate enough revenue to pay for themselves.
Lilburn Police Chief John Davidson told us, "They put so many restrictions on them it made it not practical. They're just barely paying for themselves." All of Lilburn's red light cameras have now been shut down.
However, at last count there were still 57 red light camera intersections in operation. In 2008 the highest revenue producing red light camera intersection was in Atlanta at Freedom Parkway and Boulevard Avenue. That's where we started our test. We wanted to find out if the yellow lights were coming up short. They were, both at that intersection and 8 others we tested in the Atlanta area. 75 percent of the 33 yellow lights we tested failed to meet the times we were given by the municipalities for the yellow times under the new law.
Athens Clarke County Traffic engineer Steve Decker told us our times must be wrong, "You can't time the lights using a stop watch," he said. We didn't. We used video frame computer technology to time the lights to 1/100th of a second and we tested each light twice. Many yellow light times in our test were shorter by half a second or more and according to studies cited by House Rep Barry Loudermilk that could mean the difference between getting a ticket or not.
We asked Steve Decker if he thought fractions of a second make a difference. "Nah, he said.
"It doesn't matter what they think and it really doesn't matter whether they think there's an impact or not the law says you'll add a second and the cities are obligated to abide by the law," said Loudermilk.
Atlanta's interim commissioner of Public Works, Michael Cheyne promised to look into it as did Steve Decker with Athens Clarke County but they still maintain that the yellow light times are in compliance.
We turned our test results over to Georgia's Department of Transportation which regulates the laws and issues the permits for red light cameras. They told us they now have the information needed to begin conducting their own tests. We'll be watching to see if any correction notices are issued.
Check out our tests: They included intersections in Atlanta, Marietta, Roswell, Clayton County, Athens Clarke County and Lilburn (which has now turned its cameras off)
*Insurance Information Institute
While the provision of adequate yellow signal timing is important and can reduce red light running, longer yellow timing alone does not eliminate the need or potential benefits of red light cameras. Studies have shown that increasing yellow timing to values associated with guidelines published by the Institute of Transportation Engineers13 can significantly decrease the frequency of red light violations.14,15,16 In addition, a 2002 Institute study of modified yellow and all-red traffic signal timing at urban intersections reported that injury crashes were reduced by 12 percent at experimental sites relative to comparison sites.17
An Institute study conducted in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, evaluated incremental effects on red light running of first lengthening yellow signal timing, followed by introduction of red light camera enforcement.8 Yellow signal timing was increased by about one second at two intersections where red light cameras were installed. Results show that while increased yellow signal timing reduced red light violations by 36 percent, the addition of red light camera enforcement further reduced red light violations at these sites by 96 percent beyond levels achieved by the longer yellow signal timing.