By Mark Boada, Executive Editor
What’s the first road safety lesson you remember receiving? Mine – delivered over and over again by my parents and teachers in elementary school – is “Look both ways before crossing the street.”
Kids, of course, are impulsive and often oblivious to roadway hazards. They chase balls, pets and other kids, and jump out into the street from between cars. But by the time we’re teenagers, though, most of us have learned to heed the lesson. Then, we go for our drivers’ license, and the lesson is expanded: “Always look both ways before crossing an intersection.”
This lesson is so fundamental, that it’s nothing short of shocking for this observer to learn that red light-running deaths have hit a 10-year high.
The alert came last August from the AAA Traffic Safety Foundation, which in a press release that in 2017 – the latest year for which statistics are available – stated that 939 people were killed across the nation by drivers who ran through red lights, an increase of 28% since 2012. To put this in perspective, over the same period of time, the number of U.S. traffic fatalities from all causes rose just 10%, which means red light running fatalities grew nearly three times as fast.
The experts have yet to weigh in on exactly why this is happening. And with thousands of red light cameras in 22 states, you’d think that there’s greater deterrence than ever against running traffic signals. Indeed, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has found that the cameras have reduced red light running fatalities in large cities by 21%. If so, maybe it makes sense for the other 28 states to put cameras in place.
The surge isn’t because people don’t recognize the practice is dangerous. According to the AAA Foundation’s latest Traffic Safety Culture Index, 85% of drivers view red light running as dangerous. But here’s the rub: nearly one-third of drivers who participated in the Foundation’s survey admitted that they’d blown through a red light within the previous 30 days.
The same survey offered one clue to the contradiction: more than 40 percent of the same surveyed drivers said it’s unlikely they’d be stopped by police for running a red light. Another possibility is that since the end of the Great Recession, more people are driving more miles than ever and losing more time in traffic jams, so we’re all feeling increasingly frustrated and driving more aggressively to beat traffic. My number one culprit is distraction from driver use of digital devices, including OEM-installed GPS systems.
Now, let’s assume that fleet drivers are all complying with their fleets’ policies prohibiting the use of cell phones while behind the wheel. Let’s hope so, anyway. It’s urgent, therefore, to warn them, loudly and clearly, that the odds have increased that, as mindful as they may be, other drivers will drive carelessly or recklessly and crash into them at a regulated intersection.
My recommendation: it’s time send out a message, loud and clear, warning them about this dangerous trend and to be extra-cautious before proceeding through an intersection. That means:
• Coming to a full stop at stop signs and intersections where a right turn on red is permitted, and looking more than once in all directions, keeping an eye out not just for other cars and trucks but pedestrians and cyclists too.
• Whenever the light is green, whether you’re the lead car or not, assume that someone among the cross traffic is likely to barrel through the intersection, and look as many times as it takes be sure that isn’t happening.
• A yellow light means “STOP!” unless it’s unsafe to do so because of your proximity to the intersection, your speed and whether the road surface is too slippery to avoid going out of control.
Bad drivers are everywhere. Safe drivers owe it to themselves to make every effort to see them before it’s too late.