NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Indiana should consider using stoplight cameras

For months News-Sentinel.com and others have been warning drivers to stop for school buses, not only because it’s against the law to disregard school bus stop arms, but because it’s a threat to the lives of our children.

But drivers are also posing another deadly threat by running red lights. A new study has found that at least two people are killed every day in the U.S. because someone ran a red light. Deaths caused by motorists in this way have risen to a 10-year high, according to data from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

A study tracked fatalities from 2008 to 2017. Results released last week show drivers running red lights killed 939 people in 2017, the most recent year data are available. That’s an increase of 31 percent from a low in 2009, when 715 people were killed.

Nearly half of those killed — 46 percent — were riding in other vehicles. About 35 percent were the drivers who ran the red light, while pedestrians and cyclists comprised more than 5 percent of total deaths.

There were 29 fatalities in Indiana as a result of drivers running red lights in 2017, up 47 percent over the average number from 2008-2016.

Why point out red light fatalities as opposed to other kinds of traffic accidents? Because it’s a growing problem, and like the flashing red lights and stop arms on a school bus, the red light on a traffic signal means “STOP!” And it’s against the law to ignore that command, which is designed to protect lives.

But drivers today are in too much of a hurry, going too fast or are too distracted to drive as safely as they should. Many seem to be more concerned about getting through a traffic signal than being alert and cautious about the very real possibilities of the tragic consequences they might cause by being reckless.

“Drivers distracted on their phones, pedestrians distracted when crossing intersections, are all reasonable contributing causes to what we see the data telling us,” AAA director of traffic safety advocacy and research Jake Nelson told National Public Radio. “But it’s not the only cause.”

He said according to the AAA Foundation’s latest Traffic Safety Culture Index, while 85 percent of drivers who responded think running red lights is very dangerous, about a third of them admitted to having driven through a red light in the previous month.

“So that implies that they weren’t distracted,” Nelson said.

AAA offers several recommendations to help drivers do a better job of stopping at traffic signals when they should. One is to be prepared to stop. When you see a light has been green for quite a while as you approach an intersection, for example, you should be aware that it is likely to change soon. Slow down — don’t try to beat it.

And a yellow light is an indication you should be ready to stop. The yellow only lasts for a few seconds, but many drivers take that as a signal to race through an intersection, and all too often the light is red by the time they get there.

Drive defensively. Just because a light is green for you doesn’t mean someone approaching on the cross road will stop when they should. And when you are stopped and the light turns green, pause to make sure no one is coming through the intersection late.

AAA recommends that cities install red light cameras at intersections that have a pattern of crashes and that local law enforcement officials directly supervise the cameras. If someone runs a red light, the camera will snap a picture of the car and its driver. The accused will then receive a citation in the mail.

“Camera enforcement is a proven way to reduce red light running and save lives,” Jessica Cicchino of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, told NPR.

However, red light cameras are not currently permitted in Indiana, even though a recent study conducted by the IIHS found that not only do red light cameras prevent fatal accidents at intersections, when the lights are removed fatality rates increase.

Indiana has taken recent steps to help prevent drivers from passing school buses with stop-arms extended. Perhaps it should consider red light cameras at intersections as well.