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Deaths caused by red light runners hit a 10-year high, AAA says

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 AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

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.

According to the AAA Foundation, 28% of crash deaths that occur at signalized intersections are the result of a driver running through a red light. Nearly half (46%) of those killed in red light running crashes were passengers or people in other vehicles and more than 5% were pedestrians or cyclists. Just over 35% of those killed were the drivers who ran the red light.

“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.”

Number of deaths in red light running crashes in New Jersey: 2008-8, 2009-11, 2010-15, 2011-15, 2012-22, 2013-12, 2014-7, 2015-19, 2016-23, 2017-20. Total of 152 deaths, AAA said.

According to the AAA 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 2 in 5 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.

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% and the rate of all types of fatal crashes at signalized intersections by 14%.

“Deaths caused by red light running are on the rise,” said Jessica Cicchino, IIHS Vice President for Research. “Cameras increase the odds that violators will get caught, and well-publicized camera programs discourage would-be violators from taking those odds. Camera enforcement is a proven way to reduce red light running and save lives.”

New Jersey Assembly Bill 4314 was signed into law on Jan. 13, 2008 requiring the Commissioner of Transportation to establish a five-year pilot program to determine the effectiveness of the installation and utilization of traffic control signal monitoring systems in the state.

New Jersey ended the red light enforcement camera program on Dec. 16, 2014 and required the 73 red-light cameras within the 24 participating municipalities to be removed.

AAA says changing a drivers behavior is also critical to reducing the number of red light running crashes on U.S. roads. 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.   

Pedestrians and cyclists should also stay safe when traveling near intersections and 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.

Traffic deaths are dropping slightly

According to the National Safety Council, the first estimate of total motor vehicle deaths in 2018 was 40,000, down 1% from the final 2017 total of 40,231. In the first six months of 2019 the decrease accelerated, with motor vehicle deaths decreasing 3% from 2018 estimates.

Motor vehicle deaths for January through June 2019 totaled 18,580. This figure is down 3% from revised estimates from the corresponding period in 2018. The January through June figure for 2019 was also down 3% from the final 2017 estimate. The estimated annual population death rate is 11.8 deaths per 100,000 population, down 3% from the preliminary 2018 rate. The estimated annual mileage death rate is 1.2deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, stable from the revised 2018 rate, the National Safety Council said.

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Jay Edwards

Born and raised in Northwest NJ, Jay has a degree in Communications and has had a life-long interest in local radio and various styles of music. Jay has held numerous jobs over the years such as stunt car driver, bartender, voice-over artist, traffic reporter (award winning), NY Yankee maintenance crewmember and peanut farm worker. His hobbies include mountain climbing, snowmobiling, cooking, performing stand-up comedy and he is an avid squirrel watcher. Jay has been a guest on America’s Morning Headquarters,program on The Weather Channel, and was interviewed by Sam Champion.

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