Cops, safety advocates remind you to stop at red lights

John Egan

You might be red with anger or embarrassment if you fail to stop at a red light the week of Aug. 7-13, 2011.

Law enforcement agencies and traffic safety organizations observe National Stop on Red Week each August to encourage motorists to pay attention to red lights. During the week, cops (plainclothes officers, in some cases) step up efforts to nab red-light runners. Controversial red-light cameras also keep tabs on motorists who run red lights.

National Stop on Red Week was launched in 1995 by the Federal Highway Administration.

In 2009, more than 670 people were killed and an estimated 130,000 were injured in crashes that involved running a red light. About half of those killed in red-light crashes are pedestrians, cyclists and people other than the red-light violator. The U.S. Department of Transportation has found that one in three Americans knows someone who has been injured or killed in a crash involving a motorist who ran a red light.

"There is no doubt that red-light runners are dangerous drivers who irresponsibly put others at risk," according to the National Campaign to Stop Red Light Running. "In America's cities -- where too often the yellow light has come to symbolize 'hurry up' instead of 'slow down' -- red-light running is the leading cause of all urban automobile crashes."

In a 2010 survey by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, more than one-third of motorists admitted that in the previous month, they'd gone through a red light when they could have stopped safely.

"Drivers who run red lights typically are in a hurry, driving aggressively, are distracted or believe they won’t get caught for such a minor infraction," according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. "Waiting at a red light, especially when you’re feeling rushed, can be annoying and even make you late for work, but the results of running a red light can last a lifetime."

According to the National Coalition for Safer Roads, California topped the list of states for red-light-related traffic deaths in 2009, with 104. It was followed by Texas (79), Florida (62), Arizona (37), New York (29), Georgia (25), Michigan and Ohio (23 each), and Illinois and North Carolina (21 each).

"No family should have to suffer the loss of a loved one because of someone's desire to beat a light," says David Kelly, president and executive director of the National Coalition for Safer Roads. "National Stop on Red Week serves as an important reminder of the dangers of red-light running and the importance of stopping on red. Preventing these crashes is in each driver's control."

The National Motorists Association, which advocates for motorists' rights, has complained that National Stop on Red Week is a publicity stunt aimed at promoting the use of red-light cameras and raising revenue for "unethical cities."

"Actual experience has shown that the most likely solution to intersections with high rates of violations is a simple increase in the yellow-light duration," the association says. "Yet ticket-camera merchants and revenue-strapped cities refuse to apply this inexpensive engineering solution. They prefer to apply cameras that reward the city for poor engineering practices."

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