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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Red light follow-up

Last week I discussed the ins and outs of red-light camera enforcement.  I wrote that the safety goal of the program is to curb broadside crashes and lost lives — and fortunately Spokane’s results are positive.  But I just read a AAA study suggesting our nation is not doing so well as a whole — and that “photo-red” is still recommended as a viable road to improvement.

The study’s results showed deaths from red-light runners had reached a ten-year high and current trends reflect a steady rise. The number of people killed when someone lead-footed through a red light was 939 in 2017, the last full year numbers were available, according to the study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

The study tracks anyone who was killed, including the driver, passengers, people in another vehicle or people outside the vehicle.  “This means at least two people killed every day at the hands of drivers blowing through red lights,” said Jake Nelson, director of traffic safety advocacy and research for AAA.

One clear contributor is that Americans are driving more, said Brian Tefft, senior researcher AAA.   The number of miles traveled rose 5% during the period studied.  Distraction is a likely contributor, since American drivers are increasingly distracted on the road with mobile devices and vehicle touch screens.  Many experts say is one likely reason that total traffic deaths have continually risen since the all-time low of 32,744 in 2014.

Touch-screen systems in many new vehicles are quite distracting, putting drivers at risk of crashes, according to a new study funded by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.  The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Utah, tested 30 vehicle infotainment systems and found that all of them are distracting to some degree.

Sadly, whatever the cause, the intersection fatality crisis is particularly deadly for people who aren’t riding in the offending car.  “More than half of all the people killed in these crashes were not the red-light running drivers, not their passengers, but were other people who they hit,” Tefft added.

Besides that, many Americans readily admit that they disregard red lights from time to time. Nearly 1 in 3 admitted to running a red light in the last 30 days, according to the AAA Foundation's Traffic Safety Culture Index data.  Nelson advocated red-light cameras at intersections where traffic data suggests there’s a problem.  As I noted last week, that program has worked here —any other cities that had one and later discontinued it have mostly reinstated them due to statistical demands.

The cameras tend to work on the theory that enforcement yields compliance and it’s impossible to have officers at every light all day long.  As Nelson simply put it “The reality is that cops can’t be everywhere.”

It’s also the belief of most experts that more roundabouts would help lower intersection fatalities. With them, there is no red light to run and they are safer than red-light intersections because crashes that occur there happen at lower speeds and less severe angles.

Other technology that could help combat the crisis includes vehicle-to-red-light communication systems, but it’s probably wishful thinking to expect cash-short, polarized governments to invest in such technology.  Self-driving cars could also one day help prevent intersection crashes, but it will be decades before every car on the road has such capability.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at