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Red Light Camera Debate Heats Up Over Shorter Yellow Lights

By Amy Perry in News on Mar 23, 2010 5:40PM

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Photo by Tripp
Red light camera opponents claim the city is reducing the length of yellow lights below the three-second standard at intersections with cameras but the Tribune reports that that while yellow lights are shorter at intersections monitored by cameras, evidence shows that the length of those yellows still meet federal guidelines. Most yellow lights at intersections monitored by cameras in the city last three seconds, "the bare minimum recommended under federal safety guidelines," according to the Tribune. In the suburbs, the yellow lights last between four and four-and-a-half seconds. Critics claim the shorter yellow lights in Chicago make it harder for motorists to stop in time and yields more tickets for the city, while officials say the three-second yellows predate the installation of red-light cameras by decades.

With 186 red light camera intersections, Chicago has more intersections monitored by cameras than any other city in the nation and made $59 million in revenue last year from violations recorded by these cameras. Officials insist the cameras are there only to improve safety but the effectiveness of the cameras in reducing accidents has come under scrutiny.

The Tribune reported last year that state records showed collisions either increasing or holding steady at nearly 60 percent of the city intersections equipped with red-light cameras in 2006 or 2007. City records, by contrast, showed accidents going down more often than not at those intersections.

The Tribune found no evidence to back up red light camera opponents’ claims that the city is tampering with the yellow lights. It obtained city engineering plans and found instructions for three-second yellows at almost all signals tied to cameras and instructions for the rest of the signals call for four-second yellows. In addition, it found signal times can't be altered without a security code and if a yellow cycle drops below 2.8 seconds then it switches automatically to flashing red lights in all directions.