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10 News Investigators: Florida's red light cameras still have short yellow lights

11:12 AM, Sep 25, 2013   |    comments
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TAMPA, Florida -- It's been 115 days since the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) acknowledged yellow lights may be too short for some drivers at red light camera (RLC) intersections. But despite specific instructions on how to correct the problem, almost none of Tampa Bay's hundreds of RLCs have been fixed yet, and drivers are still getting unfair tickets because of it.

On May 31, FDOT issued a memo indicating the state would be tweaking the formula it uses to calculate yellow light times to allow drivers an extra 0.4 seconds to react and make a safe decision at a yellow light. For a car traveling 45 mph, that represents 26 extra feet to stop and avoid a $158 fine.

TIMELINE: 10 News' Short Yellows Investigation
MAP: Short yellows in your neighborhood

But local cities and counties need FDOT permission to change interval timings on state-controlled roads, where the majority of RLCs sit. And 10 News obtained e-mails from FDOT engineers discouraging municipalities across Tampa Bay from lengthening their yellow lights until the agency completed its long process of updating the state traffic manual. Almost every municipality in Greater Tampa Bay obliged, at the expense of drivers, except Brooksville, which extended its yellow light times in June.

Traffic engineers in Lakeland tell 10 News that once they receive FDOT's permission, red light camera intersections could be re-timed within a couple of days. The city has already re-timed a number of RLC intersections on city-owned roads.

But in Tampa, home to some of the shortest yellow lights in all of Tampa Bay, the RLC intersections may not be re-timed until the end of the year because of staffing and technology issues. In the meantime, drivers will continue to get tickets because of the short yellow lights.

READ: How to challenge a RLC violation

Since 10 News started asking questions, FDOT sped up its timetable for approving the traffic manual and finally produced its new, approved yellow light timings Monday.

In addition to the 0.4 seconds added to the state's yellow light minimums, FDOT will require cities to round up on yellow light calculations. Tampa had been rounding down in many instances, shaving an extra 0.1 second off the state minimums. And the "all-red" time, where all four directions of traffic are stopped, will be increased across the board from 1.0 second to 2.0 seconds.

FDOT will continue to allow municipalities to calculate yellow intervals based on posted speed, instead of actual drivers' approach speeds, if they choose. The difference at many intersections would be approx. 0.5 seconds, according to a recent national study.

However, state traffic operations engineer Mark Wilson tells 10 News that local cities and counties can choose to extend their lights above the state minimums and give drivers extra time to react to yellow lights "as long as it is determined in compliance with MUTCD, using an engineer practice, using ITE Formula, and they 'do not have to request permission.' "

The cities of Lakeland and Brooksville already started adding time to their yellow intervals, opting for more conservative times than the state's minimums.

Find 10 News Investigator Noah Pransky on Facebook or follow his updates on Twitter.

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