Gotcha! How Red-Light Cameras are catching more drivers with shorter yellow lights

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When red-light cameras are watching your every move, each second counts in determining whether you get by or get slapped with a $50 ticket.

But now, a NewsChannel 3 investigation is uncovering cities taking away precious yellow light time after their cameras are installed, increasing your chances of becoming a red light runner.

Case in point: the City of Norfolk.

For years, their yellow lights have been 4 seconds long, but once their red-light cameras went up this past November, drivers lost one full second trying to make a left hand turn at St Paul's Boulevard and Brambleton Avenue.

Over at Chesapeake Boulevard and Little Creek Road, drivers lost up to 8/10ths of a second.


“The answer is obvious to any of your viewers: It’s a monetary reward system,” said Gary Byler, a local attorney who's taken red-light camera cases to court in other cities.

We showed him Norfolk's new yellow light times.

“If the proper interval was 4 seconds before, it makes no sense that you would reduce it when you set up to enforce, if anything, you would give a little grace,” said Byler.

Norfolk's new shortened yellow lights may look like a trap--but technically, they are still legal, because they strictly adhere to VDOT's minimum yellow light guidelines.

VDOT updated their yellow light formula in January of 2013.

It allows cities to set the yellow lights at left hand turn lanes shorter than those of straight lanes, because drivers are expected to slow down.

In Newport News, that formula change allowed city engineers to lower many of their yellow lights last year.

On Mercury Boulevard and Jefferson Avenue, a 3.6 second left turn yellow light went down to just 3.2 seconds.

“The yellow lights there in the left hand turn lane are too short,” said Newport News resident Rick Johnson, who says he got caught by a similar red light trap at Jefferson Avenue and Oyster Point Rd.

“64% of the citations being issued at the intersection are people doing exactly same thing I did, people turning left,” said Johnson.

Johnson actually took his case against the city to court, but because Newport News follows the VDOT guidelines, he lost.

“It all seems unfair to me,” said Johnson.

Still, not all Hampton Roads cities are playing dirty.

“Everything we do benefits the driver,” said Sgt. Dan Fiore, the Virginia Beach Police Department’s PhotoSafe program coordinator. “We give them more time on lights than we are required, and we exceed the minimums in every aspect.”

Right now, there is no yellow light in the entire city of Virginia Beach less than 4 seconds.

Some go as high as five seconds.

“This program is today, has been in the past, and always will be in the future about traffic safety,” said Sgt. Fiore.

It's important to note that VDOT's minimum yellow light guidelines allow room for "engineering judgement."

That's why Beach traffic engineer George Harden says he chose to keep the city's yellow times longer.

“It was safer, we felt it was a safer decision for the motoring public,” said Harden.

The City of Chesapeake followed in Virginia Beach's footsteps, and kept their yellow lights longer as well.

Their statistics clearly show that when yellow light times go up, citations go down.

When Chesapeake's yellow lights jumped just half a second in 2013--tickets decreased by almost 58%.

Comparing that to Norfolk's bare minimum yellows--in the first month of red-light camera enforcement, more than one thousand tickets were printed.

At that rate, Norfolk is on track to more than double Chesapeake's citations for the year.

“The people that put the cameras up get paid, and city gets paid,” said Byler.

All while drivers lose.

NewsChannel 3 asked Norfolk and Newport News to explain to NewsChannel 3 why they chose to lower their yellow times while other cities raised them.

Both declined our requests for an on-camera interview, refusing to explain their decisions to the public.


  • Scott

    Read the DMV Driver Handbook. Yellow/Amber lights mean PREPARE to stop NOT hurry up and try to BEAT THE LIGHT. 35 mph / 51 feet per second…you can’t stop your car in 175-200 feet? (Put your cell phone down – stop trying to beat the lights)

    • Brian Ceccarelli

      Scott demonstrates the depth of the entrapment. Both the DMV and Scott do not know what an amber light means. From the “Transportation and Traffic Engineering Handbook, ITE, 1982, p.756” from where the VDOT gets it amber light formula:

      “At the termination of the green phase, motorists approaching a signalized intersection are advised by a yellow signal indication that the red interval is about to commence. The speed and location of some approaching vehicles will be such that they can stop safely at the stop line; others will have to continue at their speed or even accelerate into or through the intersection.”

      The formula mandates the some motorists beat the light. And you if read the definition carefully, note that you are not allowed to slow down unless you intend to stop. Once past your ability to stop, you must proceed at the speed limit or more. If you slow down, you delay your entry into the intersection and the yellow light does not last that long.. Think what you must do when you prepare to turn. Now look where your city placed its red light cameras.

  • James C. Walker

    Short yellow lights are one of the two vicious scams of red light cameras. The other is to ticket slow rolling right on red turns that federal research shows are involved in only 0.06% of traffic crashes that involve an injury or fatality. 99.4% of right on red tickets are about money.

    The quotes from Virginia Beach are nonsense. Several intersections in that city have sharply INCREASED injury crash rates. Safety? No. Money is the purpose.

    James C. Walker, Life Member-National Motorists Association

  • Thaddeus White

    These tickets are nothing short of highway robbery! They’d get more respect from me if they just pulled a gun on us, and yelled” stick’em up”. It’s the same thing! These tickets aren’t about safety! They’re all about revenue (MONEY)!!!!!!!!!!!

  • jcwconsult

    Virginia residents who have had enough of the scam of red light camera cash registers need to QUICKLY contact their state Delegates and Senators to insist they support House Bill 973 to ban the cameras statewide.

    James C. Walker, Life Member-National Motorists Association

  • Retired_in_Va

    If not banned, there should be a mandatory yellow light length of at least 4 seconds. When Georgia did this, one county got rid of their cameras, why, it was no longer cost effective. One light that was making over a million dollars a year, went drastically low. Longer yellow lights, less accidents and a whole lot less tickets robbing the public.

  • Retired_in_Va

    “NewsChannel 3 asked Norfolk and Newport News to explain to NewsChannel 3 why they chose to lower their yellow times while other cities raised them.

    Both declined our requests for an on-camera interview, refusing to explain their decisions to the public.”

    How do explain robbing your citizens?

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