You closely follow a line of cars ahead of you, and just when you are about to make your turn, the yellow light changed to red. Some lights flashed and you don’t think much of it. 2 weeks later you get a letter in the mail with 4 photos showing you as the driver, violating a red light. And the photo is totally you, so not much defense there, you’re thinking. In the next letter you receive in the mail, you fully understand the extent of this violation. (Look here for an infographics on how to read a traffic ticket in general).
The base fine of $490 fine is enough to get anybody’s blood boiling (and that is not including traffic school fee, and a separate fee to the court to “allow” you to go to traffic school – adding insult to injury). Also, the court may raise the total fine if you have other “priors” (like that other speeding ticket you got 10 months ago). Thus, it is not uncommon for me to see a $700+ ticket for a red light camera ticket. (See uniform bail schedule online). It is not surprising why this little machine has been the topic of so much controversy and court battles.
Yellow Light Interval
If you feel that the yellow light interval was too short in your case, it might be worth an investigation. If it turns out to be below the required yellow light interval, it might be your lucky day.
Under Vehicle Code 21455.7, where there is a red light camera system, the minimum yellow light change interval has to meet the requirements of the Traffic Manual of the Department of Transportation:
V C Section 21455.7 Automated Enforcement Systems Minimum Yellow Light Change Interval
Automated Enforcement Systems: Minimum Yellow Light Change Interval
21455.7. (a) At an intersection at which there is an automated enforcement system in operation, the minimum yellow light change interval shall be established in accordance with the Traffic Manual of the Department of Transportation.
(b) For purposes of subdivision (a), the minimum yellow light change intervals relating to designated approach speeds provided in the Traffic Manual of the Department of Transportation are mandatory minimum yellow light intervals.
(c) A yellow light change interval may exceed the minimum interval established pursuant to subdivision (a).
Amended Sec. 3, Ch. 511, Stats. 2003. Effective January 1, 2004.
Looking under the manual, under Table 4D-102 (CA), there is a formula for how they calculate a required minimum yellow change interval. You don’t need to know how to use this equation. There is a handy chart converting commonly posted speed to the minimum yellow interval. (See here at page 90.)
So, if the posted speed limit is 40 mph, the minimum yellow should be 3.9 seconds; if the posted speed is 45 mph, the minimum yellow should be 4.3 seconds, and so on. If the yellow light interval was shorter than this, then it violated the requirement under VC 21455.7. But, the minimum yellow interval for a protected left or right turn is 3.0 seconds. (It may also be increased based on field review or judgment)
New California bill to watch for
Red light cameras has been subject to many criticisms. The yellow light interval has been the topic for much complaints. A bill to watch out for is AB-612- Automated enforcement systems (legiscan.com/CA/text/AB612/id/878147). This bill would add an additional second to the existing yellow light interval. More importantly, citations would be dismissed if the yellow light interval is not in compliance with the new requirements.
I feel there is a need to add an extra second to the mandatory yellow interval. Many times I go to court on these tickets where the driver only crossed the red light by a fraction of a second. And each time I go to court there are many, many others who argue the same issue. This could be a good thing for the people, as most of the close-call cases would not be filed in the first place.