If you feel like those yellow lights aren't long enough, you may actually be right, at least if you live in Chicago. Apparently the city of Chicago made yellow lights a tenth of a second shorter in an effort to collect more money from traffic tickets. And so far it seems to be working since it's resulted in literally millions of dollars in extra revenue.
You wouldn't think that a tenth of a second would mean much, but in fact, reducing yellow light times from 3.0 seconds flat to 2.9 seconds resulted in 77,000 additional tickets from red light cameras. At $100 per ticket, that means the city made close to $8 million dollars off of the change, which according to the Chicago Tribune was instituted this spring when the city when the city switched camera vendors.
Understandably, this doesn't sit well with the citizens of Chicago. It also raises some serious concerns since federal safety regulations dictate that yellow lights for slow-speed traffic should be at least 3.0 seconds long. In other words, the city's decision to shorten yellow lights, even by a tenth of a second, was not only devious and underhanded, it was also potentially unsafe. But hey, it's not like preventing car crashes are something city officials should actually care about right?
On the recommendation of the city's Inspector General Joseph Ferguson, Chicago has decided to stop issuing tickets for lights below 3.0 seconds. Presumably, this means they will also stop having yellow lights that last less than 3.0 seconds, since the lights are still theoretically unsafe, whether or not the city is issuing tickets.
The whole thing raises huge ethical questions. Again, a tenth of a second doesn't seem like much time, but the fact still remains that the yellow lights that were affected by this change were still technically unsafe. And the idea that a city would institute a rule change that made traffic lights unsafe for, presumably, the purpose of collecting extra revenue is disturbing, especially since WBEZ also reports that Chicago may also not be following other recommended practices when it comes to yellow lights.
In general, you would hope that the people making these sorts of policies would first and foremost be concerned with the safety of drivers. But if Chicago is any indication, it seems that this isn't always the case. Here's hoping that the Windy City was an isolated case and that other cities aren't trying similar tactics to stick us with tickets at the expense of our safety.