We’ve all seen them.
They’re the folks who rather than make an abrupt stop for a traffic light that just turned red, punch it and race through, often failing to reach the intersection until well after the light is red.
Now, you might think, no big deal. We’ve all been there. We’ve all sped up in frustration as a light turns red rather than slow down and stop. Considering the traffic on this island, it’s easy to understand why drivers get impatient and angry and get tired of stopping at red lights. Little is more maddening than when you’re cruising along and the traffic light for no apparent reason other than to aggravate you, switches to red. So, instead, many of us take a quick glance around for a police car and, if we don’t see one, we’re not stopping for that light that just seconds before was a nice green.
But there has been a rising cost for driving aggressively.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has reported that more than two people are killed every day on U.S. roads by impatient and reckless drivers blowing through red lights, according to data analysis performed by the foundation. The most recent crash data available shows 939 people were killed in red-light-running crashes in 2017 — a 10-year high and a 28% increase since 2012. With the number of red-light-running crashes 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.
This week three people were hospitalized after a driver ran a red light near the Honolulu Museum of Art and struck an ambulance while it was transporting a patient to The Queen’s Medical Center. The patient and an emergency medical technician in the ambulance suffered injuries and were taken to a hospital in another ambulance. Later, a second emergency medical technician went to the hospital as well, police and health officials reported.
According to the AAA Foundation:
“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.”
According to the foundation’s latest Traffic Safety Culture Index, 85% 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. More than two in five drivers also say it is unlikely they’ll be stopped by police for running a red light. Nevertheless, it’s against the law and if a driver is involved in a deadly crash, it could send them to jail.
“All too often drivers are in a rush or aren’t paying full attention to the road ahead,” said Liane Sumida, AAA Hawaii general manager. “We hope this latest data analysis from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reminds them about the importance of making responsible decisions when behind the wheel to keep roads safe for themselves and for others each and every day,” she added.
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 found that when properly implemented, red-light cameras reduced the fatal red-light-running crash rate of large cities by 21%, and the rate of all types of fatal crashes at signalized intersections by 14%.
As of July 2019, 341 communities in 21 states and the District of Columbia operate red-light automated enforcement programs, down from a peak of 533 communities in 2012.
So what’s the solution?
Simple, but not easy to do: We all need to slow down. We all need to put our foot on the brake rather than the gas when that light turns red. But don’t just listen to us.
To prevent red-light crashes, AAA recommends that drivers:
• 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’ve approached the intersection. They are more likely to turn yellow as you arrive at the intersection;
• Tap the brake: Tap your brakes a couple of times before fully applying them to slow down. This will catch the attention of drivers who may be inattentive or distracted behind you;
• Drive defensively: Before you enter an intersection after the light has turned green for you, take a second after the light changes and look both ways before proceeding.
And if you’re a pedestrian or cyclist, do your part, too. AAA recommends:
• 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.
Red lights are part of the system in which we drive. Let’s not get mad and speed up when we see them coming. Let’s stay calm and slow down. Lives depend on it.