NewsOperation Safe Roads


Phoenix councilman wants longer yellow lights for safety

yellow light AP
Posted at 8:00 PM, Mar 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-12 00:23:11-05

PHOENIX — A Phoenix City councilman is calling for the streets department to lengthen the timing of yellow lights.

This comes just months after an ABC15 "Time to Stop" investigation looked at whether longer yellow light durations could prevent red-light running deaths.

Maricopa County Judge Rosa Mroz was out for a morning walk on Feb. 2 when a car ran a red light, according to police. She was hit and killed crossing the street at 56th Street and Camelback Road.

Arizona has the highest number of deadly red-light-running crashes in the nation per capita, according to a 2019 AAA Foundation Study.

"We are unsafe in the city of Phoenix," said Councilman Sal DiCiccio.

In November, the ABC15 Investigators showed you the current yellow light timing recommendations from the Institute of Traffic Engineers, the leading national authority on this issue. For a street with a 45 mph speed limit, ITE recommends a 4.8-second yellow light duration.

Phoenix's yellow lights are a half-second shorter at 4.3 seconds.

"Extending yellow lights will save lives," Shelia Dunn, spokeswoman for the National Motorist Association, told ABC15 in November.

Traffic safety experts and at least one study say longer yellows reduce accidents.

"If you have a yellow light time that's too short, you create what's called a dilemma zone, which means that the driver does not have either enough roadway to stop safely and comfortable or enough yellow light time to get into the intersection before the light turns red," said Jay Beeber, a transportation researcher with Safer Streets L.A.

DiCiccio watched the ABC15 reports and has now used the data to push for light timing changes in the city of Phoenix.

"Every day that goes by, that these yellow lights are shortened the way that they are, is unsafe and puts other people's lives at risk, puts people's families at risk, and puts individuals at risk," DiCiccio said.

Phoenix's Streets Director Kini Knudson said there's debate on the ITE standard "because there is not enough safety data to be able to back that up because there are impacts to extending yellow light timing."

ABC15's data analysis found, compared to other major Valley cities, Phoenix's yellow lights tend to be shorter, and red-light crashes per population tend to be higher.

"Our yellow lights are timed adequately and safely and appropriately," Knudson said.

The streets department followed up with a written statement to ABC15 saying making yellows longer could involve making the all-red signal shorter or green lights shorter.

"Absent industry safety data related to increasing yellow light timing, the Street Transportation Department will be identifying operations to evaluate clearance interval changes for traffic signal timing," the statement concluded.

Meanwhile, the city is trying to reduce deadly crashes through a comprehensive, multi-year Road Safety Action Plan. DiCicco said trying longer yellows could be a lot easier and less expensive than other options.

At least one other council member is siding with DiCiccio on the yellow light issue.

"I do want to urge you Kini to really go out and look at the yellow lights and see what's happening around the Valley and see how we can align with that," said Councilwoman Betty Guardado.

Both sides have the safe goal of reducing traffic deaths in the city.

Here's the full statement from the City of Phoenix Streets Department:

“The Phoenix Street Transportation Department follows industry standards when timing signal lights citywide. Responsible traffic engineering involves ensuring that the timing cycle of red, yellow and green lights, and pedestrian crossing time, is considered jointly in a coordinated and consistent approach to ensure the safety of all roadway users. The concept of increasing the current timing of a yellow light at a Phoenix intersection may require shortening the timing of the all-red light sequence and could also mean a shorter green light phase. Phoenix staff is unaware of any comprehensive industry studies that support a realized or demonstrated safety benefit associated with increasing yellow light timing beyond our current standards. 

The City of Phoenix is in the process of developing a Road Safety Action Plan, which will be completed later this year. The Plan will identify and evaluate a number of potential safety improvement strategies to make our roads safer for all users. One of the many items to be covered in the Plan will be signal light timing, as well as identifying options that have the greatest benefit and opportunity to address safety at intersections where a high number of serious injury and fatal collisions occur. Intersection upgrades are already being made to several of those high-incident locations.

Absent industry safety data related to increasing yellow light timing, the Street Transportation Department will be identifying options to evaluate clearance interval changes for traffic signal timing.”