Federal Highway Administration Rebuked for Inadequate Safety Standards for Signalized Intersections

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Photo: Emily Metcalf

Waunakee, WI (MMD Newswire) November 19, 2012 — Every day millions of U.S. drivers risk serious accidents caused by traffic signals with yellow-light timings that are set too short.

That is why the National Motorists Association (NMA) has sent an urgent appeal to Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) head Victor Mendez to change currentfederalguidelines by mandating acceptable yellow-light durations. In a letter dated Nov. 15, the NMA cited specific safety benefits of setting proper traffic signal cycles.


“Short yellow lights force many responsible motorists to make split-second decisions that can lead to unwarranted traffic tickets, or worse, intersection collisions,” said NMA President Gary Biller. “The current federal guidelines on yellow-light durations consist of inadequate recommendations, not proven engineering requirements.”

The NMA letter highlighted a study that determined a one-second increase in the yellow-light interval reduced intersection collisions by 40 percent. The letter also pointed to an example of a major U.S. city that is deficient in its yellow-light intervals by one second because of inadequate guidelines by the FHWA.

In addition, red-light camera operators use this national standards deficiency to set yellow-light times that frequently don’t give drivers enough time to stop as the traffic light turns from yellow to red. “Cities and for-profit camera companies maximize revenue by setting yellow-light times that are too short,” Biller said. “It is a violation of the public trust, and it jeopardizes motorist, cyclist, and pedestrian safety.”

Biller’s letter also highlighted a formula developed by the Institute of Transportation Engineers (and acknowledged on the FHWA website) as the recommended basis for a new federal requirement for yellow-light timing. This formula, he explained, factors in how fast vehicles travel as they approach the intersection. Faster travel speeds require longer yellow lights due to greater stopping distances.

“Proper timing of yellow lights is one of the most critical factors in lowering intersection violation and accident rates,” Biller noted. “Yet amazingly there is no federal requirement for determining what minimum safe yellow times should be–just some optional guidance that many red-light camera operators use to justify dangerously short yellows in order to maximize the profits of their programs.”

He continued, “The FHWA has an obligation to establish clear safety requirements that eliminate such predatory practices. The National Motorists Association is calling upon the FHWA to do exactly that.”

Submitted by the National Motorists Association. Founded in 1982, the National Motorists Association is a North American grassroots advocacy organization dedicated to the protection of motorists’ rights and freedoms. The NMA was instrumental in repealing the 55 mph National Maximum Speed Limit. Since then, the organization has fought for reasonable speed limits, an end to speed traps, fairer traffic courts and against using traffic tickets to generate revenue.