Imagine you are driving down the street and you are approaching an intersection with a light. Just as you get close, the light turns from green to yellow — right at that point in the road where you can’t tell if you can make the light or not (doesn’t it always seem to happen that way?). So what do you do? You hit the gas to try and make it, but you come up a little short. You make it through the intersection without incident; but a police officer sees your act and writes you a ticket.

Many Eau Claire residents have been through this exact scenario; many others have decided to slam on the brakes instead of hit the gas, making for a very harsh and dangerous stop. But there’s an interesting twist to this story that most people probably don’t consider: that yellow light may be illegally changing earlier than expected.

The story comes from New Jersey, where a politician is furious over a study he performed on a number of lighted intersections. His study found that a number of intersections were changing from yellow to red lights anywhere from one tenth to one quarter of a second earlier than they are supposed to. That may sound insignificant; but roughly 30 percent of red light violations occur in that tenth-to-quarter of a second frame.

So what does this mean in the world of criminal law? Well, some lights are timed for a reason: they help traffic flow easier and the intention is to keep roads safer. But if the lights are triggering early, it is causing people to suffer traffic violations that they should not be dealing with; and it makes the roads unsafe by forcing drivers to make tough decisions at the intersection. Someone who is ticketed at an illegally timed light could successfully challenge their offense.

Source: Associated Press, “Yellow lights don’t last long enough, New Jersey lawmaker says,” Aug. 19, 2013