ORLANDO, Fla. - Controversy over the use of red light cameras is growing amid a statewide investigation by the Senate Transportation Committee into reports that some yellow lights were shortened -- just to cash in on drivers.
The investigation, launched by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, comes as Orange County is preparing to install 80 new red light cameras.
But the amount of tickets those cameras give out could drop, as the Florida Department of Transportation now appears to be responding to pressure to give Florida drivers more time to make it through yellow lights.
Gabriella Mattingley is one of the many people in Ocoee caught on camera running a red light and hit with a $158 ticket. She wants to feel safe on the road, but is suspicious of the government's motivation behind installing red light cameras.
"There's definitely drivers out there that need to be aware of the road rules, but they're making a lot of money off of these," Mattingley said.
Mattingley thinks the yellow lights should be a little bit longer.
"Yeah definitely, that extra time would help," she said.
Mattingley is among the growing number of people calling for longer yellow lights, especially in the wake of an investigation by WTSP, Local 6's affiliate in Tampa, which uncovered how local governments in that area lowered yellow light times.
In one case extreme case, in Oldsmar, the station uncovered that when a short yellow light time was increased, red light camera tickets dropped by 90 percent.
State Rep. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, said she's been hearing complaints from constituents who feel that the yellow lights are too short.
"We don't want people screeching their breaks on when they're going 47 miles per hour because they only have three seconds to stop," Stewart said. "That's not safe."
Stewart said the purpose of the cameras is not to make money, but instead "they should be a device for public safety, to cut down on the t-bones, deaths and disabilities of our families and those that are own our roads in Florida."
Stewart thinks city and county leaders need to be realistic when plugging numbers into the accepted formula to set yellow light times.
The formula works by setting the speed of the yellow lights, in large part, based on the speed of the approaching vehicle. The faster the approach speed, the longer the yellow light. But right now Central Florida governments are making yellow lights as short as possible under FDOT guidance, by plugging the posted speed limit into the yellow light formula -- rather than the normal speed people typically travel on that road.
"If it says 30 miles per hour and they're going 35 typically -- and that's pretty typical -- then they should have the yellow light according to what the speed of the road is, not necessarily the posted speed," Stewart said.
Using the typical speed traveled on the road rather than the posted speed would generally give drivers just under a half a second more time at yellow lights. And you might think a split second wouldn't matter, but Orlando traffic lawyer LeRoy Costner says it could save you big bucks.
"Absolutely. More than half the cases I saw today wouldn't have been there," Costner said. "Less than half a second -- just a fraction of a half a second that makes a big difference."
Costner said the short yellow light controversy could have been avoided, if the state didn't change the rules to allow shorter yellow lights right after legalizing red light cameras in 2010.
"It's like dirty politics," Costner said. "They're showing that they're really in it for the money. They're not in it for safety."
FDOT is listening to the complaints about the short yellow light times. The department told Local 6 it is considering making yellow lights 0.4 seconds longer -- not by mandating cities use the typical speed limit in the yellow light formula -- but instead by increasing another variable in the formula related to reaction time.
The justification for the increase would be to give Florida's senior population more time to react at yellow lights.
Below are some yellow light times at major intersections in Orange County:
- John Young Py at Central Florida Py - 5.0 seconds
- Dean Rd at University Bv - 4.3 seconds
- Dean Rd at Lake Underhill Rd - 4.7 seconds
- Oak Rideg Rd at Texas Av - 4.0 seconds
- Clarcona Ocoee Rd at Hiawassee Rd - 4.3 seconds
- Hiawassee Rd at Old Winter Garden Rd - 4.3 seconds
- John Young Py at Oak Ridge Rd - 4.0 seconds
- Rouse Rd at University Bv - 4.3 seconds
- Lake Underhill Rd at Alafaya Tr - 4.3 seconds
- Chickasaw Tr at Lake Underhill Rd - 4.3 seconds
Click here to see yellow light times at major intersections in the City of Orlando.