When confronted about the shortness of a yellow traffic light, traffic engineers lie. If they tell the whole truth, the liability consequences are severe, even unto hundreds of millions of dollars of civil and criminal penalties. And so they lie to protect their careers, their colleagues and their employers. They lie to conceal their incompentence--an incompetence which has saturated the traffic engineering profession since 1965. An attorney needs to know what the traffic engineer is doing wrong and how the traffic engineer defends himself. This article is the necessary primer.
This article contains the details of a confrontation between a red-light camera ticket recipient and a traffic engineer. The confrontation occurred on September 22, 2023. The engineer timed the yellow light at the intersection where the accused got his ticket. The intersection is Market St at N. 23rd St in Wilmington, NC. The yellow light duration is too short even by NCDOT standards, let alone by first principles of physics. Had the traffic engineer calculated the yellow even by NCDOT standards, the accused would never have received a ticket.
Below I enumerate the traffic engineer's responses to the accused's questions. The engineer's responses are typical. The engineer claims to have followed the NCDOT standards. The engineer then sets out to intimidate the accused with technobabble. The engineer hopes the accused will just go away. But the accused, who is a private-sector electrical engineer, knows more about engineering than the traffic engineer. The accused has done his research. The accused knows that many engineering calculations are wrong, but the accused has not yet learned to refute the babble of a traffic engineer. It takes years for a person to speak the pseudo-science language of the traffic engineer. I, instead, proffer the refutation to each of the engineer's claims. For professional engineers licensed in the state of North Carolina, lying and incompetence are unlawful under the Professional Code of Conduct: NCAC 21-56.0701.
The following is the North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct.
Paragraph (b) requires the engineer to protect the public. Paragraph (c)(1) requires the engineer to be competent. Paragraph (d) requires the engineer to be objective and tell the truth.
The following is the response of the NCDOT traffic engineer to the accused. The engineer responded in red. Compare the responses to the facts in the table below.
NCDOT Traffic Engineer's Responses
There are larger engineering malpractice than the ones the traffic engineer addresses.
Though I didn't mention it, the accused requested a crash study for this intersection. The NCDOT gave him one. The NCDOT performed a before-and-after red-light camera crash study for his intersection. The study revealed the red-light camera inceased the crash rate. When enforcement worsens things, then it is an engineering problem. The engineer is now violating the prime directive of the engineer practice statute: to safeguard the public's life and health. By not looking into this, the engineer is negligent.
In the confrontation, the accused used NCDOT Std. 5.2.2, Sheet 5 of 5, Determination of the Yellow Change and Red Clearance Intervals for his defense. The traffic engineer recognizes Std. 5.2.2 as authoritative yet incorrectly assumes that NCDOT Std. 5.2.2. qualifies as an engineering practice under law. An engineering practice, by statutory definition NCGS 89C-3(6), is a practice which correctly applies the mathematical and physical sciences. However, the yellow change interval equation and the numbers traffic engineers plug into it are mathematically incorrect. Therefore, Std. 5.2.2 is not an engineering practice. Instead of using physics as the authority to use the equation, the traffic engineer uses the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) as the authority. ITE has the same authority as WalMart. As a matter of interest, ITE explicitly disclaims the accuracy of any of its publications.
As an attorney, you need to be confident in your knowledge that traffic engineers cause over 90% of red-light running and crashing. Calculating a yellow change interval in contradiction to what physics requires of time and distance for vehicles approaching a traffic light, makes us cross the stop bar just after the light turns red. In some cases like turning, the yellow is so short that it places us inside the intersection several seconds after the light turned red when conflicting traffic gets the right-of-way. Believe it or not, there is an easy solution to the whole problem. But the hubris of traffic engineers wills them to lie and protect themselves rather than admit that the "2" in the yellow light equation should not be there. What traffic engineers have been doing to the public for over 50 years is worse than what lead in pipes, asbestos in buildings and PCBs in ground water has done to life. Remove the "2" and the whole red-light camera industry disappears, and there will 90% fewer red-light runnners and crashes. The relationship between time, velocity and accleration is t = v/a. Not t = v/2a. The yellow light is half the time it takes to stop. That is the problem. While t = v/2a works for one special case of traffic movements--traffic going straight without slowing down, it fails for all the rest.
The next post shows an email thread where state and city traffic engineers knew they made a serious mistake, but even when the accused pointed out the mistake, the engineers conspired and lied about the mistake.