Red Light Running Crashes Are On The Increase

Red light running factors into more than 800 deaths annually; more than half of those who die are hit by red light violators.

Each year more than 800 people die and an estimated 200,000-plus are injured in crashes that involve red light running. Total deaths in such crashes numbered almost 6,000 during 1992-98. More than half of these deaths were pedestrians and occupants in other vehicles who were hit by the red light runners. Another 2,779 deaths occurred in the vehicles running the red lights. During the same time period (1992-98), about 1,500,000 people were injured in such crashes.

"This traffic safety problem deserves more attention than it has received," says Ed Rust Jr., chairman of the Institute and CEO of State Farm. "Red light running is more than just a form of aggressive driving. People are dying and getting hurt needlessly because of it."

Camera enforcement: Nationwide, fatal crashes at traffic signals increased 18 percent during 1992-98, more than three times the rate of increase for all other fatal crashes during the same time. Because red light running is a big part of the problem, the Institute has been studying the effectiveness of red light camera programs. The cameras, which are being used to enforce traffic laws in about 40 U.S. communities, photograph vehicles whose drivers deliberately run red lights. Violators then are ticketed by mail. Such programs reduce red light running by about 40 percent, Institute research has found.

Cameras have been used with success outside the United States, but in some U.S. jurisdictions there has been opposition to cameras because of perceived privacy concerns. "This should be a nonissue," Institute president Brian O'Neill says. "Red light runners have no right to jeopardize others and then hide their violations behind privacy claims. Public officials should be concerned with protecting innocent people from being killed or injured by red light runners rather than protecting the privacy of people who break the law."

Geographic variation: Arizona has a far higher rate of fatal red light running crashes than other states and, in response, has begun camera enforcement in several cities. Three of the four cities with the highest rates of fatal red light running crashes are in Arizona. Rates in Nevada, Michigan, Texas, Alabama, and New Mexico also are high.

map of legislation

RED LIGHT CAMERA LAWS AS OF JUNE 2000
laws passed
| enforcement without state laws | legislation introduced (2000)

CITIES complete list>
with highest death rates in red light running crashes per 100,000 people, 1992-98
 

Population

Deaths

Rate per
lac

Phoenix, AZ

1,125,599

122

10.8

Memphis, TN 614,067 49 8.0
Mesa, AZ 333,756 26 7.8
Tucson, AZ 445,840 34 7.6
St. Petersburg, FL 237,480 18 7.6
Birmingham, AL 256,386 18 7.0
Dallas, TX 1,047,816 73 7.0
Albuquerque, NM 412,625 28 6.8
Louisville, KY 260,572 17 6.5
Detroit, MI 998,523 65 6.5
NOTE: cities with population more than 200,000
STATES complete list>
with highest death rates in red light running crashes per 100,000 people, 1992-98
 

Population

Deaths

Rate per
lac

Arizona

4,280,998

305

7.1

Nevada

1,529,841

59

3.9

Michigan

9,655,540

355

3.7

Texas

18,677,046

663

3.5

Alabama

4,255,686

143

3.4

New Mexico

1,670,580

56

3.4

Florida

14,197,723

434

3.1

California

31,645,023

956

3.0

Delaware

717,499

21

2.9

Sources: Fatality Analysis Reporting System, U.S. Department of Transportation; population data from U.S. Census Bureau, 1997

Red light running crashes are on the increase; characteristics of red light runners identified

Drivers who run red lights are responsible for an estimated 260,000 crashes each year, of which approximately 750 are fatal -- and the number is rising. Determining the size of the red light running problem is one aspect of a new Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study. The report also profiles red light runners who, compared with other drivers, tend to be younger and have poor driving records and histories of alcohol use. Institute researchers also identify U.S. cities with especially high rates of fatal red light running crashes.

Red light cameras are increasingly being used to enforce traffic laws by automatically photographing vehicles whose drivers deliberately run red lights and ticketing the violators by mail. Several months after red light cameras were introduced in one California city evaluated by the Institute, red light running violations dropped about 42 percent.

On a national basis, fatal motor vehicle crashes at traffic signals increased 19 percent between 1992 and 1996, far outpacing the 6 percent rise in all other fatal crashes. Red light running is a big part of the problem. Institute researchers determined that during this time period there were 3,753 red light running crashes, rising from 702 in 1992 to 809 in 1996, a 15 percent increase.

Characteristics of red light runners
In fatal red light running crashes involving two cars, the violators were more likely than the non-runners to be younger than 30 (43 percent compared with 32 percent) and to have been driving with suspended, revoked, or otherwise invalid driver's licenses. Younger drivers were particularly likely to be unlicensed. Fatally injured red light running drivers were much more likely than the other drivers in these crashes to have blood alcohol concentrations of 0.10 percent or more (35 percent compared with 6 percent), which is the legal threshold for an alcohol-impaired driving offense in most states.

Cities with high rates of red light running crashes
Cities with populations of more than 200,000 accounted for about 34 percent of all fatal red light running crashes during 1992-96. The average crash rate was 2.5 crashes per 100,000 residents for the five-year period, but the rate varied from a high of 8.11 per 100,000 in Phoenix to a low of 0.21 per 100,000 in Oklahoma City. Rounding out the top five cities were Mesa (7.08 per 100,000), Memphis (5.45), Tucson (5.11), and St. Petersburg (4.95).

Red light cameras prove successful
The use of red light cameras to ticket and deter red light runners is moving beyond the pilot stage, with programs due to be launched in several cities. A recent Institute study of a program in Oxnard, California, shows that red light running violations dropped a total of 42 percent after cameras were introduced at nine intersections, which includes a similar decline at intersections that weren't equipped with them. Plus there was strong public support for red light cameras -- 80 percent of Oxnard residents favored their use.

Red light cameras are permitted in 10 states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Virginia, Washington) and the District of Columbia. They have long been used in Australia, Europe, and Asia.


Characteristics of Red Light Running Crashes

In the United States in 1996, there was a total of 257,849 traffic crashes in which someone ran a red light.

According to a recent national study, in the United States in 1996, there was a total of 257,849 traffic crashes in which someone ran a red light.

These red light running crashes accounted for:

  • 4% of all police-reported crashes;
  • 5% of all injury crashes; and
  • 7% of all injury crashes on urban roads.

47% of red light running crashes involved injuries, as compared with 33% of other crashes.

Of all red light running crashes in the U.S. in 1996:

  • 15% involved fatal or incapacitating injuries, and
  • 31% involved non-incapacitating injuries.

72% of these red light running crashes occurred during the day (between 6:00 a.m. and 5:59 p.m.).

Red light running injury crashes in 1996

In 208,355 red light running injury crashes, (1) the crash involved two drivers, each of whom was going straight (not necessarily in the same direction) prior to the crash, and (2) only one driver met the definition of a red light runner (in other words, this subset avoids problems with assigning fault by excluding left-turn crashes and those involving more than two vehicles). This subset represented 61% of red light running injury crashes in 1996. Of drivers in this subset:

  • 43% were younger than age 30, as compared with 33% of drivers in non-red light running crashes ("non-runners");
  • 58% were male, as compared with 54% of non-runners;
  • 5% were reported to have been drinking any amount of alcohol, as compared with less than 1% of non-runners (these rates are for both daytime and nighttime crashes);
  • 12% in nighttime crashes (6:00 p.m. to 5:59 a.m.) were reported to have been drinking any amount of alcohol, as compared with 1% of non-runners in nighttime crashes.

Fatal red light running crashes between 1992 and 1996

Between 1992 and 1996, there were 3,753 fatal red light running traffic crashes, resulting in 4,238 deaths. These fatal red light running crashes accounted for 3% of all fatal crashes. Of fatal red light running crashes:

  • 97% involved two or more vehicles, and 3% involved pedestrians or bicyclists;
  • 86% occurred on urban roads;
  • 57% occurred during the day; and
  • 91% occurred during "good weather conditions."

In 2,229 fatal red light running crashes, (1) the crash involved two drivers going straight (not necessarily in the same direction) prior to the crash, and (2) only one driver met the definition of a red light runner. This subset accounted for 59% of fatal red light running crashes between 1992 and 1996. Of drivers in this subset:

  • 43% were younger than age 30, as compared with 32% of non-runners;
  • 74% were male, as compared with 70% of non-runners; and
  • police-reported alcohol consumption was much higher than that reported for non-runners: 34% for red light runners, as compared with 4% of non-runners.

Characteristics of fatal red light running crashes differed by age group:

  • Red light running crashes peaked during the day for drivers aged 70 and older, and around midnight for drivers aged 20-69.
  • Police-reported alcohol consumption was similar for drivers younger than age 20 and drivers aged 20-69, but was rarely reported for drivers over age 70.

Source: Retting RA, Ulmer RG, and Williams AF. Prevalence and characteristics of red light running crashes in the United States. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 31:687-694, 1999.

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