Traffic safety advocate: Red-light running should be red flag for U.S.

Lori Johnston

Running a red light is risky – for drivers, passengers and pedestrians. But the chances of injuries and even death don’t keep folks from regularly blowing through stoplights.

More than 2.3 million drivers ran a red light in 2011, according to the nonprofit National Coalition for Safer Roads, which analyzed data from red-light cameras in 18 states. Red-light cameras, which capture videos of drivers who fail to stop and who then are sent traffic tickets, have been installed in more than 540 U.S. communities. Supporters say red-light cameras are reducing traffic violations and crashes, while opponents say the cameras do more to raise government revenue than to improve safety.

Memorial Day is the holiday travel period with the most instances of running red lights (26,787 violations in 2011), the coalition found. Throughout the year, afternoons and Fridays are the most common times for drivers to hurry through red lights. 

David Kelly is executive director of the National Coalition for Safer Roads, which was founded in 2011 to promote the use of red-light cameras. Kelly spoke with CarInsuranceQuotes.com about reckless driving and the need for more red-light cameras. Kelly is former acting administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and a former state lawmaker in Florida.

The coalition is backed by American Traffic Solutions Inc., a major supplier of red-light cameras and a client of Kelly’s lobbying firm.

Why is red-light running so common?

Quite frankly, we are living in a society where people think their time is more important than others’, and getting through that intersection is going to save them that 10, 15 seconds. … They don’t think anybody is going to get hurt.

Why is curbing red-light running vital to reducing crashes in intersections?

We really have a situation where more than half the people in red-light running crashes are innocent victims. (In 2010, more than 670 people were killed and an estimated 122,000 people were injured in crashes that involved red-light running, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety). The folks that are dying are the pedestrian or bicyclist or (other people) who (have) the right of way into the intersection.

Although cameras are in place to stop red-light running and penalize drivers, accidents still are happening.

There are a lot of things we’ve done right with traffic safety over the past 10 years. We’ve gotten people to wear their seat belts in record numbers. We’ve gotten alcohol-related fatalities down to their lowest numbers ever. But we really haven’t given the attention to intersection safety and driving too fast. (A 2012 report by the Governors Highway Safety Association found speeding contributes to one-third of traffic deaths.) I think it is time to focus national priorities on red-light running and speed.

How much of a role does texting and other distracted driving behavior play in red-light running?

We believe that it is a significant factor. I think the prevalence of driving distracted is a lot higher than … is being reported. I think that the data is inconclusive, but just from videos of violations, we know that it’s a problem. There are a ton of pictures of people driving through an intersection texting on their phone or doing something they shouldn’t be doing.

Are you aware of any insurers rewarding drivers for not running red lights?

I’m not aware of any insurance company doing that. I’d love to see it. We have talked with a couple of insurance companies about (teaming up to develop red-light running) programs, but we haven’t been able to make that happen yet. State Farm really started the entire discussion on intersection safety in the late ’90s with the 10 “Most Dangerous Intersections” in America report. That still has tremendous reach, even for today. Nationwide Insurance has been a longtime supporter of traffic safety and a big supporter of red-light cameras as well.

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