The Guy The State Of Oregon Said Wasn't A Real Engineer Just Helped Convince The Government To Extend Yellow Light Intervals
from the so-much-for-shutting-the-guy-up dept
Longer yellow lights are on the way, thanks in part to a man a state government agency once forbade from criticizing red light cameras without a proper license.
As The Newspaper reports, the Institute of Transportation Engineers — which develops standards for managing all aspects of driving under the US Department of Transportation — has agreed with recommendations made by a team of engineers that found ITE-approved yellow light timing standards reduced public safety and resulted in more accidents.
Traffic signal yellow times could begin rising at intersections throughout the country next year. The Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) expects to have a proposal in early 2020 to address the problem of overly short yellow times for motorists making left-hand or right-hand turns. An ITE panel concluded in September that a team of engineers who objected to the practice were right on the fundamental issue: drivers approaching an intersection to make a turn under certain conditions can neither safely stop nor legally proceed without risking an automated ticket.
The appeal of ITE yellow light timing standards was brought by a group of engineers that included an engineer who the Oregon Board of Engineers once infamously claimed wasn’t an engineer.
The team that filed the appeal consisted of Oregon engineer Mats Jarlstrom, Safer Streets LA executive director Jay Beeber, North Carolina professional engineer Brian Ceccarelli, and the National Motorists Association‘s professional engineer Joe Bahen. The appeal used a physics model to prove mathematically that the ITE’s current recommended practice dangerously shortchanged drivers making turns.
Jarlstrom was fined $500 by the Oregon Board of Engineers for practicing engineering without a license. Jarlstrom does, in fact, have an engineering degree. He’s just not licensed by the state. The Board took this to mean it could tell Jarlstrom to stop presenting his red light camera research to public entities. A federal court disagreed and Jarlstrom obtained an official apology from the Licensing Board.
His criticisms of red light cameras (and the consequent shortening of yellow light times) were correct. ITE guidance allowed city engineers to shorten yellow times on left/right turn signals by approving a calculation that shaved 5 mph off the speed limit solely for the purpose of determining yellow light timing.
The research presented to ITE showed this made things much more dangerous for drivers approaching turning lanes during a yellow light. It created a “dilemma zone” where drivers were given two options, both of them bad: make an unsafe stop or get a ticket.
The “dilemma zone” is where cities using red light cameras make their money. Research cited by The Newspaper shows the majority of red light camera citations are issued to drivers who misjudged the end of a yellow light by less than 0.25 seconds.
ITE now appears to be distancing itself from camera-based enforcement efforts, something it has actively encouraged in the past. This is from a 2001 Congressional report on red light cameras that directly quotes ITE’s guidance:
When the percentage of vehicles that entered on a red indication exceeds that which is locally acceptable, the yellow change interval may be lengthened (or shortened) until the percentage conforms to local standards, or enforcement can be used instead. (Page 5, emphasis added).
Cities and towns looking for more revenue have taken those standards to heart, shortening yellow times and increasing enforcement. Municipalities and red light camera companies made money while drivers absorbed the risk. Now, ITE’s wording suggests the equation for yellow light timing shouldn’t be used solely for the purpose of calibrating red light cameras for maximum profitability.
The Recommended Practice is not intended to declare, at a snap shot in time, if a vehicle “has violated the red signal” and the use of this document and red light running enforcement should be at best loosely connected. Change intervals should be developed using variables that reflect average people and vehicles.
The deployment of red light cameras directly correlates with shortened yellow light intervals. Driver safety is the sales pitch, but the real motivating force is the extra income. Increasing yellow light intervals from the ITE minimum does actually have a positive effect on driver safety, but it’s hell on revenue streams. Here’s how things changed in Georgia after the state mandated a one-second increase in yellow light intervals.
Suwanee was first to end ticketing on January 19 after issuing just 68 citations under lengthened yellow (the equivalent of 110 tickets per month). This compared unfavorably to the 2008 average of 580 tickets per month which helped the city land $414,540 in revenue. In Duluth, the program issued 652 tickets in October compared to 215 last month. As a result, Duluth will let its contract for the program — which generated 10,386 tickets worth $727,020 last year — expire in May. In Dalton, 122 tickets were issued at the intersection of Highway 41 and Shugart Road after the light was increased in January. The previous year, the number of monthly tickets averaged 460.
The ITE spent years nudging cities towards “enforcement,” rather than safety. It’s finally dialing that back and it took the work of outsiders to get it moving in the right direction. Hopefully, this guidance will be applied and red light camera companies will find themselves in the dustbin of history.