Red means stop, right? That’s a driving basic. But Americans’ flouting of a fundamental traffic regulation — the red light — is costing more lives than it has in a decade.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has found that two people die daily in vehicle wrecks involving the running of a red light, NPR reported, noting:
“Drivers blowing through red lights killed 939 people in 2017. That’s an increase of 31% from a low in 2009, when 715 people were killed. More than half of those killed were passengers or people riding in other vehicles. About 35% were the drivers who ran the red light. Pedestrian and cyclist deaths connected to red light running represented about 5% of total deaths.”
Road safety experts are unsure why fatalities are rising due to drivers careening through red lights. But a prominent, common sense cause may be due to motorist distraction.
After years of logging steady declines in road and highway deaths and injuries, the toll from motor vehicle wrecks spiked recently, though they also have eased a bit in the last year or two. The problem is that Americans drive too much while distracted, drunk, drugged, and drowsy.
Motorists get behind the wheel then promptly launch into extensive use of their electronic devices, especially writing and sending texts that cause them to focus on their e-screens and not the hazards of the road ahead. Many drivers eat, deal with their appearance, conduct phone and in-person conversations, or get almost hypnotized by broadcast music or talk radio shows cranked up to high volumes.
They also get on the road while intoxicated or under the influence — of booze, pot, prescription medications, and illicit drugs. Because they lead intense, active lives, they often take to highways and byways while exhausted and, essentially, asleep at the wheel.
Blowing through a red light? Who, with all that’s going on inside a vehicle, notices? And, it may be a spreading bad habit across the land that who cares, too, about that yellow or warning light? It’s supposed to be a caution for an impending stop — not an invitation to accelerate through an intersection where control of the right of way is shifting, pronto.
An improved economy also means that many more Americans are working, can afford gas and cars, and spend much more time motoring around, the AAA foundation found. That added mileage alone adds to motorists’ road risks. But it also may reflect frustrating travel conditions that may lead cranky and tired commuters to try to race to their home or work or next destination — by blasting through the doggone red lights. With disastrous results.
In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the damage that can be wreaked on them and their loved ones by wrecks involving cars, trucks, and motorcycles. Motorists, at least with the problem of flouted red lights, can deal with an issue directly and by themselves: They can just say to no to running signals.
Authorities also can help. The AAA foundation says that greater enforcement may be key, with crackdowns on offenders and installation of disliked and often no so effective red-light automatic camera systems. Traffic engineers also may wish to scrutinize their systems to see if select green lights stay too long, going “stale,” and then catching motorists with sudden changes that encourage them to race through the red.
And while it’s a good thing for the economy to be strong enough so that more Americans are working, meaning they can afford their vehicles and spend more time in them, individually, we motorists need to reconsider the distraction bubble we build around us. This is notable in urban areas like Washington, D.C., where the traffic not only seems to worsen by the day but also creates new driving challenges as many seeks travel options.
The regions streets and highways demand everyone’s full concentration, what with pedestrians, bicyclists, and now scooter riders competing for commuting pathways in the daily nightmare to get to and from work, school, and the chores of life.
Head’s up out there, everybody, as a traffic safety expert from the AAA foundation warned, telling NPR: “If you’re going to cross an intersection, for just a moment please take your face out of your phone and take those earbuds out of your ears, so you can protect yourself in the event that someone blows through a red light.”