Concerns over the length of yellow lights in metro-Richmond

RICHMOND, Va (WTVR)- The first ever red light cameras are now operating in Richmond, but drivers who frequently drive through the intersection at Elkhardt and Hull Streets tell us they are concerned about the length of the yellow light at that intersection.

CBS 6 researched and found out those concerns have sparked controversy in several other parts of the country.

In fact, a WTSP reporter in Florida uncovered that the state helped reduce yellow light lengths at intersections with red light cameras.

However, a spokesman for the City of Richmond told us the city follows strict federal and state guidelines when programming the length of its yellow lights.

Still, local traffic attorney, Joseph McGrath, who is also a member of the National Motorists Association, told CBS 6 that drivers need to be aware of the issues with yellow lights and red light cameras in other places.

“When you have money involved in the enforcement of law enforcement there is always a question about that…always a suspicion about that,” McGrath said.

Driver Shaquim Knight worries the new red light cameras in Richmond will cause more people to react and brake suddenly.

“The yellow light is not letting us have enough time to go past it,” Knight said.

Knight said she recently had an experience where she was quickly approaching the intersection at Hull and Elkhardt when the green light turned to yellow.

“I thought it was a little too soon for the yellow light to come so I had to brake and I could have caused an accident right behind me,” McGrath said.

A 2007 study about the impact of red light cameras on crashes seems to support Knight’s concerns.

In the Virginia Department of Transportation study, researchers found rear end crashes increased by 27 percent in places with red light cameras.

“You may be forced to go through the light for your own safety…I think that’s where the tickets are going to come from,” McGrath said.

McGrath said cities and red light camera companies have a lot to gain by keeping yellow light lengths short.

CBS 6’s Melissa Hipolit timed the length of the yellow light located at the intersection of Elkhardt and Hull Streets using her iPhone. She found the yellow light lasted for four seconds.

Knight might think that is quick, but according to VDOT, yellow light times in the state typically fall between three and six seconds.

13 comments

  • jrcat7

    If you want an unbiased view of red light cams I would say that the National Motorist Association is the last place to look. Take a look at the bottom of http://www.motorists.org and you’ll see how the NMA derides radar (they call it speed traps), red light cams and you’ll see articles on how they bring their weight to bear to defeat or remove anything that helps reduce unlawful behavior.

    I’m not saying all cities that have red light cams are above board and certainly the red light cam vendors have done some dastardly deeds but every time a locale plans to implement technology to enforce laws, you can bet the NMA will be there to fight and provide shills in discussions to point out the evils of cams, radar etc. Any site that titles articles like “How to beat a speed trap” is not going to present an unbiased view.

    • jcwconsult

      For jrcat7: If you look carefully at the studies and articles on our website you will see that most come from unbiased academic and investigative reporter sources.

      Radar, Lidar, and speed camera enforcement is profitable ONLY in locations where the posted limit is deliberately set well below the safest speed limit levels. With a speed limit set for maximum safety there are not enough violators to pay for any regular enforcement or a camera.

      Red light cameras are profitable ONLY where the timing of the yellow lights is deliberately set too short for the ACTUAL approach speeds of at least 85% of the vehicles (safest method) and/or where tickets are issued for safe slow rolling right on red turns that almost never cause a crash or injury. Per federal research, only 0.06% of all crashes with an injury or fatality also involve a right on red turn.

      If all traffic enforcement and all traffic engineering parameters were set for safety, our 31 year old organization might never have had to exist.

      James C. Walker, Life Member-National Motorists Association

  • jerry williams

    The red light cameras are not to reduce accidents – because they cause them, but to raise money for the City. Be careful, as the story says: In the Virginia Department of Transportation study, researchers found rear end crashes increased by 27 percent in places with red light cameras.

  • Another Driver

    I think part of the confusion, which needs to be cleared up, is this: Will you be fined if your car is fully past the white stop bar, but still inside the intersection, when the light turns from yellow to red?

  • karol

    just because a red light camera catches you ,you still get your day in court.the camera cannot convict a person,correct?If you are pass the line when it turns red I don’t see a court making a conviction unless the expectation is now you must stop in the intersection and back up?They make their money off the people that just pay and thats what they are banking on.Everyone should go to court no matter if you feel you did run the light.In the end its up to a judge,not a camera or company making a profit off it.

  • dmcgrann

    When my son got his driver’s license, the Chesterfield judge running the ceremony said, “You will get a ticket unless the front of your car is over the line when the light turns yellow”. That’s the law. It doesn’t matter how short the yellow light is, if you’re in the intersection by a fraction of an inch when the light turns yellow, it’s legal to proceed through.

  • J

    @dmcgrann, before quoting laws, actually take the time to look the law up. If the judge indeed said that, he is an idiot and is wrong. You must stop on yellow if you haven’t entered the intersection AND it is not safe to continue, and of course you must be able to stop before the intersection. You could be a car length from the intersection when it turns yellow, but depending upon the speed you may or may not be able to stop.

    As for all the naysayers on phot-red, they can’t arbitrarily change the signal timing and shorten the yellow phase (change interval). 3 seconds is the minimum and it is based upon speed limits and the intersection width as noted in the story. And while rear-end crashes may increase, angle collisions decrease, and the angle collisions are much more serious and more likely to result in injuries and fatalities.

  • jcwconsult

    It doesn’t happen at every camera intersection, but increased crash rates with cameras are a common result. Our website has long lists of academic studies and investigative reporters articles on this result.

    The for-profit camera companies and their for-profit business partner cities do NOT care if crashes go up at camera intersections. MONEY was the purpose for the cameras and as long as it rolls in the negative safety result of using cameras is of no concern to the two for-profit business partners.

    Red light cameras should be banned by law in every state, as they are in some already. They are an immoral for-profit racket.

    Richmond voters will need to vote out every camera supporter in city government, to replace them with honorable people who do not find it acceptable to profiteer with red light cameras.

    James C. Walker, Life Member-National Motorists Association

    • jcwconsult

      For Amber: Because it takes longer in time and distance to stop if the approach speed is 45 mph versus if it is 35 mph. In that example, the yellow must be a minimum of 4.3 seconds versus 3.6.

      James C. Walker, Life Member-National Motorists Association

      • Amber

        I understand that. Why not make the all the maximum. If its need to be 4.3 seconds to safely stop for one then make it that long for all lights. Then people would get a feel for how long the yellow light is and that would never change.

  • jcwconsult

    The federal maximum is 6 seconds, too long for lower speed places. It would create lower flow rates for no valid reason. James C. Walker, Life Member-National Motorists Association

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