Editor's note: This story first appeared Sunday as an exclusive for our print readers.
Tucsonans got an unexpected break this summer when the city extended the length of yellow lights for left turns at photo-enforcement intersections.
Drivers turning left at red-light camera intersections now have a yellow light for 3.5 seconds instead of three seconds. The change went into effect on June 28, but the city never publicized it.
Given that red-light cameras are a hot topic, why not?
Transportation Director Jim Glock said the change was in response to drivers who complained the intersections were too confusing and complex.
He said he "didn't see the necessity" to publicize the change at the city's seven red-light cameras because he didn't want people speeding up and driving unsafely in response.
"We're finding drivers ... are a little more confused going into the left-hand turns," Glock said. "We're giving them a little more time to get through the intersection so drivers are more comfortable and less likely to get a ticket."
Arizona law states yellow lights must be at least three seconds long. All of Tucson's yellows are a minimum of three seconds, but can be longer based on conditions. At photo-enforcement intersections, only drivers turning left will have the longer yellow light.
Sgt. Matt Ronstadt, a Tucson Police Department spokesman, said if drivers have any part of their car in the intersection when the light turns red, they won't get a ticket. The fine for running a red light is $280.
Drivers who are going 11 mph above the speed limit could trigger the cameras and get a speeding ticket, Ronstadt said.
What trips up many drivers, especially at larger intersections, is that the law says intersections start at the curb line, not the crosswalk.
Two of the worst intersections for tickets are West River and North Oracle roads and East 22nd Street and South Wilmot Road. Both of those intersections have long, sweeping curbs that mean drivers pass the crosswalk well before they reach the legal curb line. As a result, many enter what is technically defined as the intersection after the light turns red.
The extra half a second will give drivers trapped between the crosswalk and the curb line the chance to legally enter the intersection before it turns red.
Driver John Foltz said the change makes sense because intersections with red-light cameras seem to be larger. He said it's more fair for drivers.
"The size of the intersection is the problem," Foltz said.
Councilman Steve Kozachik said he's been asking for an extension of yellow lights for more than a year because it's mainly drivers making left turns who are getting flashed by the red-light cameras. Kozachik said he wanted the yellow light to last four seconds, but the city would only go to 3.5 seconds.
Councilman Paul Cunningham, who received several red-light tickets himself before he got on the council, said he didn't think the extra time would help much because the problem is about distance, not time.
He wants to see documentation that the red-light cameras are increasing safety. If they're not, he said, the money spent on them should be put toward police officers.
Contact reporter Rob O'Dell at 573-4346 or firstname.lastname@example.org