Red light accidents kill far more people than necessary.
This alarming trend sees drivers barreling into intersections even after the traffic signal turns red.
The number of people killed by red light runners hit a 10-year high in 2017, the latest year in which statistics have been released. A study of government crash data by the auto club AAA found 939 people were killed in 2017 by red light runners. That fatality count represents the highest death toll from red light accidents since 2008.
The numbers, released in late August, 2019, indicate a 28% increase in red light accidents since 2012. In fact two people die every day due to U.S. drivers who don’t stop for signals.
A couple of factors push the dangerous trend of red-light running. Traffic experts at AAA point out that more people are driving more miles since the recession of 2008. So, more cars on the road lead to more accidents. The other factor believed to be at-fault is distracted driving. At the same time, Brian Tefft, of the AAA Foundation says that those two factors alone do not explain why the red light accidents are up as much as they are.
What About Yellow Lights?
Other factors suspected in the increase of red light accidents include traffic signals that are not timed optimally for the smooth flow of traffic and possibly yellow caution light cycles that are too short.
Who hasn’t faced a yellow light and been tempted to hit the gas and slide through, even at the risk of possibly entering the intersection on a red? Obviously this makes for not only a bad choice but a dangerous one. However, what does the yellow light actually mean?
Laws making up the “rules of the road” vary from state to state. Its obvious green means go and red means stop. No wiggle room there. But what do the laws actually say about yellow?
Here’s what the Massachusetts law actually says:
“… any driver approaching the intersection or a marked stop line shall stop at such point unless so close to the intersection that a stop cannot be made in safety”
Code of Massachusetts Regulations 720 CMR 9.06
The Massachusetts law also says “waiting traffic” must not proceed through a yellow light.
The New Hampshire rules of the road actually present less guidance on the subject, explaining only that:
“Vehicular traffic facing a steady circular yellow or yellow arrow signal is thereby warned that the related green movement is being terminated or that a red indication will be exhibited immediately thereafter when vehicular traffic shall not enter the intersection.
New Hampshire RSA 265:10, II (a)
The New Hampshire Drivers Manual, the handbook published by the Department of Motor Vehicles offers little more, only that yellow means the light is “about to change to red.” But the manual does warn “Do not try to ‘beat the light’.”
Why Do People Run Red Lights?
The “It won’t happen to me” syndrome appears alive and well in this area. The AAA Foundation’s “Traffic Culture Index” found that 85% of all drivers indeed view red light running as very dangerous. At the same time almost one in three of the same group of drivers admits to having run a red light in the last 30 days when they could have stopped safely.
Over 40% of the drivers believe it’s unlikely that police will stop them for running the red light. That, even though they know running lights is in fact against the law and that if a driver is involved in a fatal collision after running a red light that they could do jail time. It’s called motor vehicle homicide.
Who Dies in Red Light Running Accidents?
Sadly, red-light runners cause fatalities to others, who had nothing to do with the violation. Nearly half of those killed, 46% were either passengers or people in other vehicles. Over 5% of those killed by red light runners were pedestrians or cyclists.
On a per-capita basis the State of New Hampshire saw the lowest rate of red light fatalities. On the other end of the spectrum, Arizona suffered the highest rate of red-light running fatalities.
Because red-light running reached a ten-year record the AAA recommends that pedestrians and cyclists take extra steps for their own safety. They urge pedestrians and cyclists to take these 4 steps:
- Make sure all traffic has stopped before crossing: wait at least a few seconds.
- Stay alert, listen to what’s going on and don’t wear headphones while walking or riding – they block out reality.
- Be visible – stay in well-lit areas.
- Make eye contact – look at drivers to make sure they see you before crossing in front of them.
A final step the traffic watchers believe would reduce red light running would see more traffic cameras at intersections. They believe more traffic lights, coupled with public notice to drivers that more cameras are in place, would make drivers think twice before barging into an intersection against the lights.
There was a comedian who did a shtick on how bad Massachusetts drivers are. He may well have done the same routine in other metropolitan areas. But Massachusetts drivers have a reputation and the comedian’s routine went something along the lines that in Massachusetts a green light means go, yellow means go faster and red means it’s still good for a couple of more cars.
It’s hard to say much about that other than that the problem has reached such proportions that the government now came up with one of its acronyms: RLR for Red Light Running. And in August 2019 the Federal Highway Administration warned RLR “is a serious signalized intersection safety issue”, resulting in several hundred U.S. traffic fatalities each year.
Intersection Safety, Federal Highway Administration, web page updated August 29, 2019.
New Hampshire Driver’s Manual, July, 2019 edition.
Red Light Running Deaths Hit 10 Year High, Newsroom.aaa.com, August, 2019.
The author of this article, attorney Andrew D. Myers, is a personal injury attorney in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
For info on what to do after an accident see these blog articles: