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Arizona: Group Forces City to Refund Tickets Over Short Yellow

June 30, 2009

Arizona: Group Forces City to Refund Tickets Over Short Yellow
Paradise Valley, Arizona refunds 1063 red light camera tickets after short yellow time uncovered.  

Tatum and McDonald intersectionA group campaigning to eliminate photo enforcement in Arizona has forced Paradise Valley to admit that it has been shortchanging drivers. A volunteer with the group Camerafraud.com discovered the city used illegally short yellows at the intersection of Tatum Boulevard and McDonald Drive. The motorist was mailed a red light camera ticket for allegedly entering the intersection just 0.2 seconds after the light had turned red.

“I was nailed with a ticket at an intersection that left me very perplexed because I didn’t think I was going to get a ticket,” David K. wrote on June 16. “I thought I was close enough to the intersection to pass the limit line before the light turned red. Well, I thought wrong because the duration for the yellow light on a 40 MPH speed limit road was only three seconds.”

David measured the other intersection approaches and found they used a four-second yellow. All of the engineering guidelines suggest a bare minimum of four seconds be used at intersections with a posted speed limit of 40 MPH. Wondering why the approach equipped with a camera had the shortest yellow, David called the city. The signal in question was re-timed to a duration of 4.3 seconds of yellow on the very next day. Paradise Valley is required to add the extra 0.3 seconds because of a curve in the road that affects signal visibility.

Another member named Shauna received a ticket while the signal was timed at three seconds.

“I am almost never in Paradise Valley, so was not at all familiar with the road or the length of the yellow lights,” Shauna wrote on June 20. “When I was flashed, I was shocked. I would have had to slam on my brakes — and I was actually driving slower than the speed limit — to stop for the yellow, and then all of a sudden, it was red, and the flash went off.”

Five days later, Shauna received notification that her ticket had been canceled. Altogether, 1063 motorists issued red light camera tickets between May 6 and June 16 will receive refunds if paid or have their citations canceled. Most have not paid. This represents a loss of $193,466 in potential revenue to the city.

The Texas Transportation Institute documented the importance of yellow timing in a 2004 report (view study). Cutting one second from the yellow time formula endorsed by the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) boosts violation income by 110 percent. Adding one extra second beyond the bare minimum allowed under the ITE formula slashed violations by 53 percent. Lawmakers in the state of Georgia recognized the value of longer yellows with a law mandating one extra second. Since it took effect in January, violations plunged 80 percent and profit dropped to a level that has forced seven cities to cancel their photo enforcement contracts.


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