Home  >  Virginia  >  City red-faced as Watchdog exposes illegal yellow lights

City red-faced as Watchdog exposes illegal yellow lights

By   /   January 17, 2013  /   News  /   3 Comments

DAMAGE DONE: A national motorists group says shortened yellow lights raise traffic-ticket revenue and increase the number of rear-end collisions near intersections.


By Kenric Ward | Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau

VIRGINIA BEACH — Hours after Watchdog.org reported that Virginia Beach was running illegally short yellow lights to trap red-light runners, the city reset its signals to conform to state law.

The change came in the wake of Watchdog questioning the Virginia Department of Transportation about the legality of the city’s photo-enforcement program.

State law requires that intersections with ticket-issuing cameras have yellow-light intervals that comply with the methodology recommended by the Institute of Traffic Engineers.

“The cameras were operating illegally from 2009 until last week,” Joe Bahen, director of the Virginia chapter of the National Motorists Association, said Thursday.

Brian Walters, coordinator of Virginia Beach’s “PhotoSafeprogram, said the city’s signal timing “has been in compliance with the VDOT guidelines since the beginning of our photo enforcement program.”

When VDOT amended its guidelines — extending the duration of yellow light intervals at camera-monitored intersections — the city followed suit. VDOT announced the change Jan. 7, days after Watchdog began investigating the issue.

Virginia Beach reset its yellow lights Jan. 10.

“Virginia standards are important to our driving public,” Walters said. “Drivers should be able to have expectations or similar experiences of standardized yellow timing, regardless of where they are driving in our state.”

But, he added, “It should be noted that it will take the state and localities at least a year, and likely much longer, to bring all traffic signals into compliance.”

Bahen called that “a load of crap.”

He said Virginia Beach could have spared itself — and motorists — a lot of trouble if it had simply followed accepted traffic engineering formulas on its 90 photo-enforced traffic lanes.

“State law is silent on yellows unless cameras are installed. Then the yellow must comply with the ITE recommended methodology,” Bahen said.

Virginia Beach issued some 16,500 traffic citations to red-light runners and left-turn violators at its camera-monitored intersections in 2011, the latest year for which figures were available.

“Had the city’s yellow intervals been in compliance, approximately 8,000 citations would not have been issued,” Bahen, a public engineer, told Watchdog.

One of those “offenders” was Vanessa Dallas, a real-estate agent and lifelong Virginia Beach resident who was photo-ticketed at Great Neck Road and Virginia Beach Boulevard.

According to Bahen’s examination of traffic camera footage, Dallas’ Mercedes would have entered the intersection “with 0.89 seconds to spare had the signal been timed in accordance with state law.”

Dallas said she would be asking the city to refund her $50 fine. Walters said the city would not comply with such requests.

NMA President Gary Biller said he expected as much.

“They won’t issue refunds for prior citations out of the goodness of their own hearts, but we can check around with a few law firms to see if they’d be interested in a class-action suit on behalf of those earlier ‘offenders,’” Biller said.

VDOT did not respond to Watchdog’s requests for comment. Virginia State Police declined to discuss the situation.

But Bahen praised the reporting by Watchdog, the journalistic arm of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, as crucial to bringing change.

“The NMA has been asking the city of Virginia Beach to bring its yellow intervals at camera-enforced intersections into compliance with state law since March 18, 2009. We were completely ignored until recently.

“The NMA Virginia chapter wishes to acknowledge the Franklin Center’s contribution and thank them for their interest in highway traffic safety,” Bahen said in a statement issued Thursday.

Contact Kenric Ward at [email protected] or at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward


Kenric Ward was a former San Antonio-based reporter for Watchdog.org.

  • In Virginia and all over the USA and Canada, red light cameras are a for-profit business partnership between a camera company and a government willing to deliberately mis-engineer their traffic lights to cause more technical violations and/or willing to use predatory enforcement procedures that deliberately target mostly safe drivers for revenue. Red light cameras are NOT a safety program.

    Many governments are willing to use illegal or unethical practices to increase camera profits for the business partnerships. But the glare of publicity in this and similar cases has helped curb some of the worst abuses.

    Some places held votes on the cameras, and the cameras lost about 90% of the votes. Once people understand that revenue from mostly safe drivers is the real purpose for cameras, they almost always vote no on the cameras.

    About fifty cities in California have ended camera programs, mostly to comply with the wishes of the citizens to remove them. It is just a matter of time to end the use of these for-profit cameras everywhere.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association, Ann Arbor, MI (frequent visitor to Virginia)

  • James M

    Ashland, Virginia has one of these at Rt 54 and Rt 1. The yellow light is about a split second and at night, the green light is just a few seconds long. The cops sit off to the side watching. Section 46-833 (I believe) states that any vehicle entering an intersection while the light was green has the right to proceed through regardless of the color of the light change. It got me out of a ticket. The cop had the nerve to tell me he had me on video and that I should mail in the fine. I filed for discovery and it came back that he was lying. Corruption is remarkably high in small towns…

  • heidihoneighbor

    I posted watchdog.orgs website on the pilotonline.com yedterday. People wrre shocked and had no idea watchdog.org existed and then thought the site was a hoax. Only when this article hit the radio news did they believe their gov. Was defrauding them intentionally.
    Good job watchdog