A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

AAA: Deaths due to reckless drivers running red lights hit 10-year high; victim is usually not the driver


The number of people killed as the result of impatient, distracted and reckless drivers running red lights has spiked sharply in recent years, according to analysis of crash data by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

And, more often than not (almost 65 percent of the time), the victim is not the offending driver.

“This disturbing trend impacts everyone on our roadways – drivers, passengers, cyclists and pedestrians,” said Lori Weaver Hawkins, public and government affairs manager, AAA Blue Grass. “It is critical that all parties understand this increased risk and adjust their behaviors accordingly. While you can’t control the bad behavior of other drivers, you can change your own behavior to minimize risk.”

Statistics indicate that deaths caused by drivers running red lights jumped almost 30 percent from 2012 to 2017, the most recent year for which crash data is available. Impatient, distracted, and reckless drivers racing through red lights claim at least two lives every day across the United States.

The most recent crash data available shows that in 2017, there were 939 people killed in crashes caused by running red lights — a 10-year high.

“Drivers who decide to run a red light when they could have stopped safely are making a reckless choice that puts other road users in danger,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “The data shows that red light running continues to be a traffic safety challenge. All road safety stakeholders must work together to change behavior and identify effective countermeasures.”

Prevalent behavior
With the number of crashes caused by red light running on the rise, AAA calls for drivers to use caution when approaching signalized intersections, and for pedestrians and cyclists to stay alert when crossing the street.

According to the AAA Foundation:

•28 percent of crash deaths that occur at signalized intersections are the result of a driver running through a red light.
•Per capita, Arizona has the highest rate of red light running fatalities while New Hampshire has the lowest rate.
•Nearly half (46 percent) of those killed in crashes caused by running red lights were passengers or people in other vehicles and more than 5 percent were pedestrians or cyclists. Just over 35 percent of those killed were the drivers who ran the red light.
•Eighty-five percent of drivers view red light running as very dangerous, yet nearly one in three say they blew through a red light within the past 30 days when they could have stopped safely, according to the AAA Foundation’s latest Traffic Safety Culture Index.

While enforcement is the best way to get drivers to comply with any law, it is impossible for police to be at every intersection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that when properly implemented, red light cameras reduced the fatal red light running crash rate of large cities by 21 percent and the rate of all types of fatal crashes at signalized intersections by 14 percent.

Red light running in Kentucky
Per capita, Kentucky has the seventh-highest rate of fatalities caused by running red lights, with 3.4 deaths per 1 million population, according the AAA Foundation analysis of state data from 2008-17.

Kentucky’s rate of red light running fatalities per capita ranks higher nationally than neighboring states of Ohio (24th), Indiana (11th), Illinois (21st), Tennessee (28th) and West Virginia (42nd).

In Kentucky, there were 150 total deaths in the 10-year period (2008-17) analyzed by the AAA Foundation. This compares to 229 total fatalities in Ohio, 201 total fatalities in Indiana and 125 total fatalities in Tennessee during the same time period.

Preventing red light crashes
AAA offers these tips for avoiding crashes caused by running red lights:

•Limit distractions. Previous AAA Foundation research indicates that distraction from activities such as hands-free texting or dialing while sitting at a red light, can linger with a driver for up to 27 seconds after hitting send. Intersections require a driver’s full attention. #DontDriveIntexticated
•Drive defensively. Before you advance through an intersection after the light has turned green, take a moment to look both ways before proceeding.
•Prepare to stop. Lift your foot off the accelerator and “cover the brake” when preparing to enter any intersection by positioning your right foot just above the brake pedal, without touching it.
•Use good judgment. Monitor “stale” green lights, those that have been green a long time, as you approach the intersection. They are more likely to turn yellow by the time you arrive at the intersection, so anticipate the need to make a safe stop.
•Tap the brake. Tap your brakes a couple of times before fully applying them to slow down. This will help catch the attention of drivers behind you who may be inattentive or distracted.

Pedestrians and cyclists should also stay safe when traveling near intersections. AAA recommends the following:

•Wait. Give yourself a few seconds to make sure all cars have come to a complete stop before moving through the intersection.
•Stay alert and listen. Don’t take chances and don’t wear headphones. Watch what is going on and give your full attention to the environment around you.
•Be visible. Stay in well-lit areas, especially when crossing the street.
•Make eye contact. Look at drivers in stopped vehicles to ensure they see you before crossing the road in front of them.

From AAA Blue Grass


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