I watched as the other driver sped through a red light in downtown Huntsville. He ran the light without causing a crash. Others are not so fortunate. Running a red light is one of the most reckless and risky acts of driving. Are more drivers running red lights? Research indicates they are. From 2012 – 2016 (the latest data), deaths in red light running crashes increased annually. Overall, red light deaths increased 17% during this time. In 2016, over 800 people died in the United States from crashes caused by drivers running a red light.
If more drivers are running red lights, the question is why. Why are more drivers running red lights? What can be done to reduce this danger? Traffic researchers believe several factors contribute to the growing problem. These factors include:
I. DISTRACTED DRIVERS
Distracted driving is a huge problem. Distracted drivers often approach intersections completely unaware of traffic signals. Instead of watching the road, these drivers are looking at their cell phones. I’ve watched as distracted drivers ran red lights. I’ve also watched as distracted drivers sat through green lights. On our website and blog we write extensively about distracted driving and efforts to reduce this reckless behavior.
II. IMPATIENT DRIVERS (IN A HURRY)
Late for work. Late for school. Late for the next event. Life is hectic. Sometimes impatient drivers choose to run a red light after sitting for a period of time. But, that’s not the most common event. What is most common? You’ve seen it. The light turns yellow. Instead of stopping, the impatient driver guns it. They try to make the light. Or, they try to drive through the intersection quickly before opposing traffic can begin moving. It’s a dangerous gamble that puts all of us at risk for serious injury.
III. IMPAIRED DRIVERS
On our blog, we spend considerable time writing about impaired drivers and distracted drivers. Why? We can work to reduce the danger of these bad activities on our roadways. Years ago, impaired driving meant drunk driving. That’s not always the case now. I think impaired driving from opioids and other drugs has become a greater problem. Alabama has a huge problem with opioid addiction. These drivers may not even realize the extent of their impairment. Yet, opioids can harm judgment, dull awareness and slow reactions.
IV. UNAWARE DRIVERS
Of course, a driver may be unaware of traffic signals because he/she is impaired or distracted. By using “unaware” here, I mean something broader. The driver is simply unaware of the signal light. Maybe the light is obscured. Maybe the light is in a bad position or the road is designed poorly. You’ve probably seen an intersection where a tree or bush grew in front of a stop sign. We expect our traffic engineers to design intersections and traffic control devices so that they are easily seen and understood by drivers. We have had cases where the people who designed a particular roadway or intersection did a poor job.
V. FEWER TRAFFIC CAMERAS TO MONITOR DRIVERS
A recent article asks: Is Red-Light Camera Decline Causing More Driving Deaths? I was curious about the research. This is obviously not a significant factor in Alabama. Most of our communities do not have red light cameras. The article’s author quotes IIHS data to connect red light cameras with red light deaths. Here is a quote from the article:
The number of cities with red-light camera programs has been in decline while red-light-running deaths have increased. As of July, according to IIHS, 421 communities had red-light camera programs, down from 533 in 2012. Deaths in red-light-running crashes have increased by 17 percent since then.
This is interesting data. However, it’s not an issue in Alabama.
VI. SPEEDING DRIVERS
When a driver is speeding, he or she approaches dangerous intersections too quickly. Sometimes these drivers are unable to stop. Sometimes they don’t want to stop. We need to also remember that many of the cars at the intersection around the speeding driver are stopping, slowing or turning. A speeding vehicle leaves little or no time for anyone to avoid a collision. The speeding driver is putting others at risk for needless injury.
A FINAL THOUGHT
When we talk about red light runners, we typically talk about crashes between cars. While that is the most common accident, it is not the only type of crash. As Huntsville and other nearby cities grow, we can expect more pedestrians. When cars run red lights in downtown areas, pedestrians suffer the most.
At the Blackwell Law Firm we specialize in serious personal injury cases. From our office in Huntsville, we help clients across Alabama. Outside the courtroom, we continue to focus on safer highways, safer workplaces and safer products.