A bill to do away with yellow flashing lights at mid-block pedestrian crosswalks was sent to the House floor Wednesday by the House Commerce Committee despite passionate debate about whether it could make walking safer or more dangerous.
Bill (HB 1113) sponsor Republican Rep. Randy Fine of South Brevard County argued it would be safer without the yellow lights, contending drivers are conditioned to think yellow means “go” and too often don’t stop.
But others, such as traffic safety advocate, Democratic Rep. Emily Slosberg of Boca Raton, contend any flashing lights attract drivers’ attention to the crosswalk, which is better than nothing.
The committee overwhelmingly approved the measure, named after Sophia Nelson, a 12-year-old Brevard County girl killed in a crosswalk in December, 2019.
The bill would have the Florida Department of Transportation ask federal government permission to replace yellow flashing lights, which are standard in mid-block crosswalks, with red ones, which the federal government currently does not allow. If the U.S. Department of Transportation says no, the bill would have the state or local jurisdictions remove the yellow flashing lights and not replace them.
Debate set disagreement between Fine and Sophia’s parents, Mark and Jill Nelson, and Slosberg, whose sister Dori Slosberg was also killed in a traffic crash, and who for a decade led a traffic safety advocacy nonprofit named for her late sister.
“All we are simply saying is you cannot tell pedestrians it is safe to cross the street when you are not telling cars to stop,” Fine said.
The Nelsons said they were there not just for their late daughter, but for many others who were hit walking in crosswalks because drivers reacted incorrectly when the yellow lights that started flashing. Removing the lights would make pedestrians more cautious, Mark Nelson argued.
“When you don’t have a light at all, the pedestrians won’t have a false sense of confidence,” he said.
Slosberg argued they were wrong, that studies she has seen showed pedestrian crashes are 47% less likely in crosswalks with yellow flashing lights for drivers than without them.
“We all agree the Florida Department of Transportation should make that change from yellow to red. The part I don’t agree with is that if the request is denied, if the federal government says no, to come back and remove the flashing yellow lights,” she said. “A flashing light, regardless of color, is better than no flashing light whatsoever.”
Fine repeatedly dismissed Slosberg and her points, saying she is the one who is wrong.
But it may have been up to Democratic Rep. Joseph Geller of Adventura to cement Fine’s argument.
“I almost never disagree with my friend Rep. Slosberg when it comes to a matter of traffic safety,” Geller said. And then he did just that. He confessed that he, himself, had inadvertently blown through yellow flashing lights at mid-block pedestrian crosswalks, “and sat there, and thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I could have killed somebody.’
“They just don’t condition us to stop. They do the opposite,” Geller said.
The Senate companion (SB 1412) is from Republican Sen. Keith Perry of Gainesville.