Commentary: Middle Georgia, It’s time to stop the red light running

I am not sure what has been going on lately, but a dangerous habit has been trending among Macon and Middle Georgia drivers. That habit is red light running.

We’ve all been caught in situations where there is no good option, such as when the light turns yellow, but we are too close to the intersection to stop properly, but also too far away to comfortable cruise on through. I am not referring to these “orange” lights, I mean when you physically enter the intersection when the light has had enough time to turn green for the cross street traffic.

Truck and car side impact collision.
Truck and car side impact collision. Photo provided by Wikipedia Commons.

In the past few weeks, there seems to have been a definite uptick of this behavior, enough so that I see it pretty much every trip out. Perhaps it is one of those things that is somewhat viral where once a critical mass is reached, it becomes contagious as people are emboldened by the behavior of others. Now, this is why it needs to stop, if you pardon my intentional pun.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, red light running is THE leading cause of accidents on city streets. Over 150,000 injuries and close to 1,000 fatalities in the US happen per year as a result of red light running and in total it contributes heavily to the nearly 2 million traffic accidents that occur at intersections.

The financial cost across the nation is more than $14 billion dollars a year. This is about as much as the total revenue collected by the state of Georgia.

Each red light experiences about 3 red light violations an hour according to a University Transportation Center for Alabama study in 2003.  This means that over the course of the year, an average red light is violated almost 30,000 times. That’s for EACH red light.

Accidents at red lights also result in much higher percentage of death and serious injury than other types. One particularly dangerous accident is when a driver runs the red light while a car in the cross street still has speed because the light turned green before they had to stop. In those situations, both cars will be entering the intersection together at full speed, similar to a front end collision.

I was unfortunate enough to witness an accident like this first hand. The driver of the truck that ran the light was speeding and entered the intersection several seconds after my light turned green. I didn’t go because a truck next to me wanted over or I would have been hit. The driver in the curb lane didn’t have to stop and met the truck in the middle with disastrous results for the victim.

I stayed to provide an eye-witness account to the investigating officer.  The runner’s truck bounced and ended up stopped on the sidewalk on the far side of the intersection somewhat before the crosswalk. I stayed in ear shot as the violator tried to claim his light was still yellow as he also tried to explain away the fact that he was driving a work truck without a license.

The compact car that he had was sent flying down the road a couple of hundred feet and it was mangled around the driver’s door.  Inside you could hear the moaning and wailing of a woman who would be pulled out of her car by firemen braced from head to toe to prevent further spinal injuries.

All of this carnage because someone thought they needed to be somewhere about a minute before fate determined they should arrive. I am sure his thoughts a millisecond before making the decision to enter the intersection was “no one is coming” right after thinking about how good of a driver he is.

Unfortunately the traffic laws of Georgia are such that they are designed to raise revenue instead of deter dangerous decisions. People might get a 0.08 on a breathalyzer and be cited for the tiny chance they may have possibly caused an injury, but in general red light violations are ignored in favor of the much more regular income of speed enforcement.

It is time that those who make the willing choice to enter an intersection after a light has changed face charges for the endangerment of others that is frankly no different than firing a bullet through a sparse crowd of people. Sure, you’d likely miss, but there is no excuse for holding the well-being of others in such ill regard in a civilized society.

What do you think? Where are the worst places for this behavior?




Published by Doug Deal

Founder Doug Deal is a former chemical engineer from Georgia Tech who switched careers into software development at the turning of the millennium. He has lived in Macon for nearly 12 years and started Macon Community News in 2013 with his wife Lauren. His goal in starting the newspaper was to publicize positive news because he grew tired of so much negativity driving most local coverage. He has 2 children, Sam and Isobel.