11/30/2012 03:03 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Yellow Peril

This week's poll from the Lester & Charlie Institute of Forward Thinking:

The next time you go out driving, you may notice something different! No, it's not Michele and Marcus Bachmann's new clown car. It's the new blink-and-you-miss-it yellow traffic lights!

Now, according to the National Motorists Association, adding just one second to a yellow light can reduce intersection collisions by an impressive 40 percent. It also reduces red-light violations by half.

And with millions of Americans hopping in their cars to guzzle as much gas as they can by New Year's, that sounds like good news! So what are cash-strapped cities across the country -- from Chattanooga to Dallas to Union City, CA -- doing with those yellow lights?

They're shortening them, of course! You're probably thinking that means there will be more accidents. Why, yes, it does. But it also means more traffic tickets and more money for city and state coffers. And, hey, what's a few broken bones when there's revenue to be had?

In New Jersey, they're taking things even further, shortening the yellows so much that the transportation authority ended up forcing 21 cities to shut down their red-light "gotcha" cameras because the yellows were quicker than allowed by state law.

We're surprised it hasn't occurred to them that they could make a lot more money just eliminating the yellow all together. Entering an intersection could be a lot like playing Russian roulette!

Is this really the best way they can think of to raise money? And what happens if any of those drivers mangled on a busy intersection lacks insurance? Who pays for that? Well, with the Affordable Heath Care Act kicking in, that's a federal government problem. So who cares?

We have to give those cash-strapped cities some points for creativity -- not to mention chutzpah. But it seems to us that it would be simpler (and a lot less painful) just to mug citizens on the streets.

OK, cities and states have to raise money somehow, and until unemployment hits 2 percent -- or Donald Trump promises to send $5 million to every mayor who can produce a birth certificate for the thing on his head -- local governments are going to keep thinking out of the box. So what will they come up with next? No one besides Warren Buffett wants to pay more in taxes, so what other ways can local governments raise money?

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