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CBS2 Exclusive: 'Red Light Robin Hood' Claims Suffolk County Red Light Cameras Are Rigged

SUFFOLK COUNTY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- A Long Island man who deliberately broke the law to fight controversial red light cameras in Suffolk County now claims the lights at those cameras are rigged to trap drivers.

As CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reported, one turning arrow light on Middle Country Road stays yellow for 5 seconds. So why, on the very same road, does another yellow arrow last only 3 seconds?

Stephen Ruth videotaped 100 intersections in Suffolk County.

"One, two, three, four, five; that's different than the other lights that have cameras," Ruth said.

He has a theory: "They shortened the yellow lights just to produce revenue."

Ruth was dubbed "red light robin hood" after he very publicly tampered with red light cameras in the county, rendering them useless.

It yielded him misdemeanor charges, but he hasn't given up the fight. Ruth said now he's found a pattern.

"Where there is a camera, 3 seconds. Where there is no camera, 5 seconds," he said. "I think it's trickery, it's theft, that's what I think."

Leg. Rob Trotta, a former police officer, also found quicker yellow arrows at camera intersections.

"Now that was 5, there's no camera. Then I went to the next one with a camera and it's 3," said Trotta.

So CBS2 demanded answers, and Suffolk officials said the state Department of Transportation decides how long yellow lights last. The county chooses camera locations based solely on traffic data.

AAA said a national criteria of speed and intersection size determines the duration of yellow lights. But shorter yellow lights can cause accidents.

"If drivers are in the frame of mind that 'oh it's yellow, I have to stop or I might get a ticket,' then you wind up creating nearly as bad a situation as the one you're trying to prevent," said AAA spokesman Robert Sinclair.

Trotta said drivers -- unaware yellow light times vary -- are also getting ripped off.

"'That's a gotcha, here's $80 and thank you very much,'" he said.

Ruth's fight against red light cameras now has him trying to change the law to create one uniform yellow light length, so drivers can not only protect their wallets, but also their lives, Gusoff reported.

A spokesman for the state DOT said the department does not set timing requirements for signals on all roadways, just the ones on state roads.

The spokesman said local municipalities have the option of following state and federal guidelines, but aren't required to do so unless they are using state and/or federal funding and want to be reimbursed.

"The timing of each phase of traffic signals is based on numerous factors including traffic volumes, geometry, environmental and social characteristics (schools, houses of worship, shopping centers, etc.) roadway speed, etc., in accordance with current FHWA and New York State traffic engineering principles, guidelines and practices," the spokesperson said in a statement to CBS2.

AAA officials said they petitioned Suffolk County for accident data to back up its claim that red light cameras have improved safety, but have not received the information they requested.

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