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Editor's Notes

Red Means Stop

by Bob Bryant

I will confess that nothing makes me “see red” so much as observing a driver blatantly running a red light, and it seems like I'm seeing red every day. And I'm not alone. According surveys released by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the American Trauma Society (ATS) in 1998 and 1999, two of every three drivers say that they see other drivers run red lights almost every day, and although 98 percent of Americans agree that red-light running is dangerous, almost 56 percent of the survey respondents admit to deliberately running red lights because they are in a hurry.

“The numbers suggest that although people feel it's wrong to run red lights, they're still doing it,” said Harry Teter, executive director of ATS. “Apparently these offenders don't consider that the snap decision they make to run the red light has the potential to change — or end — a life forever.”

It is perversely ironic that so many people are willing to risk their lives and the lives of others to save a minute or two when one in three Americans claim that they personally know someone who has been injured or killed in a red-light-running crash and 96 percent are fearful that they will be hit by a red-light runner.

Obeying traffic signals ranks right up there with keeping your car in the appropriate lane as a fundamental aspect of driving and as the foundation of a safe and orderly means of traffic control. The blunt message to red-light runners should be, “Hey, you're either incredibly stupid or incredibly careless.”

If you think that's a bit harsh, consider the statistics provided by DOT. Drivers who run red lights are involved in 89,000 crashes a year, inflicting more than 80,000 injuries and nearly 1,000 deaths. In addition, consider the billions of dollars in medical bills, property damage, and lost productivity and wages.

The 1,000 additional dead people each year are not statistics. They all had names, and most had families. Each one is a personal story, and the amount of anguish caused by those red-light runners cannot be measured.

To counteract this tragic situation, ATS and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) have teamed up with DaimlerChrysler to raise public awareness of this dangerous and costly problem through the Stop Red Light Running program. Since it originated with FHWA's efforts in conjunction with local communities in 1995, the program has been expanded to more than 200 communities.

The use of cameras to catch red-light runners has proven to be effective in reducing red-light running and crashes. Currently, 20 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have either passed legislation or are considering legislation to allow the use of cameras to enforce traffic laws. Also, some communities are using cameras based on the passage of local ordinances.

Other groups are also aiding in the effort to raise awareness and reduce red-light running. The Red Means Stop Coalition — a non-profit organization formed in January 1999 by three families in Arizona — has already achieved some impressive results. The coalition was successful in getting some legislation passed in the state and convinced Gov. Jane Hull to declare March as Red Light Awareness Month.

Despite some local successes, overall the problem continues to grow. From 1992 to 1998, the number of fatal crashes at intersections increased by 16 percent, while all other types of fatal crashes increased by only 5 percent. You can help — ALWAYS stop on red.

Bob Bryant


For more information about the Stop Red Light Running program, about how to start your own program, or about the availability of federal funding, go to the Stop Red Light Running Web site at