Chicago's traffic lights make drivers see red faster

CHICAGO - Traffic cameras capturing drivers running red lights have been raising big money for Chicago. It's an annoying feature of modern life, but Chicago's program has been extraordinarily beneficial to the city.

Since November 2003, Chicago has issued five million red light camera citations and generated more than $520 million in revenue.

Now comes word that even more money has been generated by a slight but significant alteration in the time it takes a yellow light to turn red.

Chicago has issued 77,000 tickets this year at intersections where the yellow light lasts 2.9 seconds instead of the standard minimum of 3 seconds flat.

That's almost $8 million in fines.

"Three seconds is way too fast for a yellow light, I think," said driver John Mathy.

Indeed, the federal Department of Transportation recommends yellow lights of 3 to 6 full seconds in duration.

While the city says the tenth of a second is probably due to variations in electricity, city Inspector General Joe Ferguson says effective enforcement should mean an error-free strategy.

"For purposes of clarity, understanding and public confidence, we think everyone is much better served with a hard 3.0 rule," said Ferguson.

The city now agrees and will make sure the yellow lasts 3 full seconds.

Drivers are exulting over that precious tenth of a second.

"To have it a little bit longer is going to be better," said Kendall Robinson.

"I do think it should be longer, for sure," Collen Chinlund said.

The prevailing view on the streets here is that when it comes to yellow lights, longer is better.

  • Dean Reynolds
    Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.