Florida DOT to add time to yellow lights

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 6/13/2013

The Florida Department of Transportation plans to add four-tenths of a second to yellow-light times to give drivers more time to react to light changes as they approach intersections. The change follows a recent investigative report out of Tampa that said the state, municipalities and red-light camera companies were profiting from shortened yellow-light times.

The National Motorists Association had objected to the 2010 policy that allowed municipalities to shorten yellow-light times and therefore generate more revenue from red-light camera enforcement programs. The NMA says adding time to yellow-light times is a step in the right direction.

“It’s still a work in progress,” NMA Executive Director Gary Biller told Land Line. “It’s not enough, but it’s a help. Every tenth of a second makes quite a bit of a difference.”

The Transportation Research Board has shown that a typical driver’s perception-reaction time is 1.0 seconds, but that can deviate three-tenths to four-tenths of a second.

Florida’s current formula for setting yellow-light times allows for a driver perception-reaction time of 1.0 seconds. The change announced by FDOT will increase that time in the formula to 1.4 seconds.

“In essence, they’re adding four-tenths of a second to the minimum yellow-light times that Florida communities are using – those that have red-light camera programs,” Biller said.

The other variable in the formula to set yellow times is vehicle speed. Biller says there’s still debate over whether state agencies should use posted speed limits or the actual flow of traffic in the formula.

“FDOT hasn’t addressed that aspect of it yet, and we keep pushing them because that’s the most important issue,” he said. “But they have budged a little bit and added four-tenths of a second to that perception-reaction time.”

An investigative report by WTSP News in Tampa Bay found that shortened yellow-light times in 2010 led to a $50 million increase in revenue for the 70 Florida municipalities that use red-light cameras as an enforcement tool at intersections.

A Texas Transportation Institute study showed that increasing yellow-light durations had a direct safety benefit and reduced the number of violations at camera-enforced intersections.

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