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Can Longer Yellow Lights Make Intersections Safer?

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Photo by AlexandreNunes via Shutterstock
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Some groups think so and are advocating for them, as the era of red-light cameras in Los Angeles comes to a close.

Red-light cameras were hailed as a way to make intersections safer, but the program ended up being a sieve for city dollars and some groups complained that the cameras actually increased certain kinds of collisions caused by people braking to avoid a ticket.

One group Safer Streets L.A. is pushing for longer yellow lights in Los Angeles, so that drivers have time to clear the intersection:

If the yellow signal phase is too short, a “dilemma zone” is created. Motorists who are unfortunate enough to be within this section of the roadway when the yellow signal illuminates may neither be able to stop safely nor legally enter the intersection before the onset of the red phase. Dilemma zones virtually assure that some percentage of drivers will be forced to brake suddenly or violate the red, thereby creating the potential for rear end collisions or vehicle conflicts within the intersection.
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But city transportation officials disagree, saying that extending the time at some of the city's most dangerous intersections could actually make matters worse.

As city officials voted to completely kill the red-light camera program, Pauline Chan, a senior engineer for LADOT, fielded questions about yellow lights from the city council. She told them she is against lengthening yellow lights. Instead she suggested looking at collision data to figure out how to reduce wrecks.

"I believe that looking at four intersections ... over a very short period of time, because of monetary restrictions, would have probably very limited use and probably would not help us evaluate traffic safety impacts of extending the signal timing," Chan said.

Councilmen Bernard Parks and Mitchell Englander wanted to keep cameras up at four intersections to test whether extending the length of yellow lights would lead to fewer red-light violations, but the council ended up voting to take the cameras down entirely.

The city's transportation committee says it will continue to look into the yellow light issue and revisit it later.