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 and we are too close to the intersection to stop properly, but also too far away to comfortably cruise on through. I am not referring to these “orange” lights. The dangerous situation I have observed is when you physically enter the intersection after the light has had enough time to turn green for the cross street traffic.
Over the past year, there seems to have been a definite uptick of this behavior, enough so that I see someone plow through a red light almost every trip out. Perhaps this is one of those things that is somewhat viral, where once a critical mass is reached, it becomes contagious as drivers are emboldened by the behavior of others.
Below 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 U.S. 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. The costs to ruined lives are incalculable. 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. This also means that for every 20 minute trip each and every traffic signal you pass will have had a red light runner.
Accidents at red lights also result in much higher percentages of death and serious injury than other types. One particularly dangerous accident is when a driver runs the red light while a car approaching in the cross street is still moving with 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 firsthand. 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 red light-runner’s truck bounced and ended up stopped on the sidewalk on the far side of the intersection somewhat before the crosswalk. I was in earshot 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 hit 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, then braced from head to toe to prevent further spinal injuries.
Regularly, on my way to work, I see accidents like the one pictured. The intersection of Eisenhower Parkway and Log Cabin Drive in Macon is a very dangerous one. Pictured was the second and third time ambulances had to respond to a wreck within the same week. All of this carnage because some drivers thought they needed to be somewhere about a minute or even seconds before fate determined they should arrive.
I am sure the thoughts of these drivers a millisecond before making the decision to enter the intersection were along the lines of “no one is coming” and “I can make it.” 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 their endangerment of others, because it 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.