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Thread: Red light running crisis - or rhetoric?

  1. #1
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Red light running crisis - or rhetoric?

    Red light running crisis - or rhetoric?
    By Eric Peters
    for immediate release

    Are we in the middle of a red light running epidemic? The background noise -- media reports, urgent calls by the safety lobby for "action" (including the use of new and more aggressive means of enforcement, such as red light cameras) says yes. Almost hysterically so.

    But the facts seem to tell a different story.

    According to an article by Richard A. Retting in the March edition of the Institute of Transportation Engineers Journal (a publication of the Institute of Transportation Engineers, comparable to academic journals such as Nature, etc.) only about 850 fatal accidents annually can be attributed to red light running. Retting's conclusions were based upon an examination of crash test data and reported causes of accidents as compiled by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the Federal Highway Administration (see http://www.ite.org/itejournal/0603.asp for the full text of the article.)

    Now, in an average year, there are about 38,000 fatal accidents nationwide in this country -- which means only about 2 percent of them (according to the article's author) involve red light running.

    While even a single unnecessary death is a tragedy, the relative handful attributable to red light running is hardly an epidemic -- let alone a "crisis."

    Now, it's clear that red light running is by definition dangerous; and it's equally clear we'd be better off if fewer drivers ran red lights. But as with "speeding," the rhetoric is more fearsome than the reality.

    And ironically, the solution proposed by some of the self-styed "safety" advocates -- more red light cameras -- may actually make matters worse, increasing crashes as well as fatal accidents. This is the conclusion of two recent studies -- one by Mark Burkey and Kofi Obeng of the Urban Transit Institute; the other by The Virginia Transportation Research Council at the request of Virginia's secretary of transportation. The first study, which compared the number of crashes at 303 different intersections over a 57 month period (including 26 months prior to the placement of red light cameras) found that " the results do not support the view that red light cameras reduce crashes. Instead, we find that RLCs are associated with higher levels of many types and severity categories of crashes." The Virginia study -- which was conducted in heavily congested Northern Virginia localities -- was more of a toss-up. Some types of accidents (rear-enders) tended to increase in frequency where RLCs were set up, while others types of accidents stayed about the same, before and after RLCs were placed at given intersections.

    Neither study supports claims made by some that red light cameras are the solution to red light running. Rather, they seem to be yet another means of fleecing the flock -- with exaggerated hype about a "red light running crisis" used to justify the adoption of the cameras. Especially in view of the fact that numerous studies of the problem of red light running have come to the conclusion that poor signal timing -- specifically, not enough of an interval between the time a light turns from yellow to red -- is the real culprit. Simply adjusting the signal timing virtually eliminates red light running. (See, for example, " The Influence of the Time Duration of Yellow Traffic Signals on Driver Response" or ""Red Light Running and Sensible Countermeasures," authored by the same Richard Retting who wrote up the March '06 ITE piece on red light running fatal accidents. This study was done under the auspices of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.)

    In the words of the first study:

    "The yellow indication is designed to warn a motorist approaching an intersection that the signal is about to turn red. The yellow light should be long enough for the approaching motorist to either, (a) come to a safe stop before the intersection, or (b) continue clear through the intersection before the red light appears. An inadequate yellow time will either prevent motorists from coming to a safe stop or force them to enter the intersection on a red light."

    The study's authors call this the "Dilemma Zone" -- and conclude that "A properly timed signal will have enough yellow time that driver's will never be faced with the impossible choice presented by the dilemma zone. By determining the stopping and clearing distances for a given approach speed, one can always calculate a safe yellow time that offers drivers a safe option, by design, every time."

    Retting agrees with this fundamental point (even though he ends up praising red light cameras later on), writing: "Signals that provide insufficient yellow intervals cause some drivers to run red lights inadvertently."

    In Maryland, a slight increase in the yellow interval (1.4 seconds longer) at a problem intersection where red light running was common " virtually eliminated all conflicts," according to "The Influence of the Time Duration of Yellow Traffic Signals on Driver Response." Another traffic survey in Georgia noted a "75 percent reduction in potential conflicts following a 32 percent increase in yellow time."

    A number of similar studies in localities all across the country have confirmed these findings.

    Unfortunately, there's not much money in fixing improperly timed traffic signals -- while there are literally millions of dollars just waiting to be raked in via the emplacement of red light cameras at improperly timed intersections all over the country

    Guess which "solution" is the one preferred by your friends in government. If you answered RLCs, go to the head of the class. You've just learned an important lesson in civics.

    A real-world lesson -- where the bottom line often matters a lot more than public safety.

    END

  2. #2
    Senior Member Kwozzie1's Avatar
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    Re: Red light running crisis - or rhetoric?

    Are we in the middle of a red light running epidemic?

    Well I think in Oz we are. the number of times i am slowing or even stopped as the amber turns red but in the lane beside an idiot takes the gamble. Our Light Phase goes :- Red - Green- Amber Red. UK I thinks still does Amber before the rede but also before the green
    Rex
    On the Sunshine Coast, in the Sunshine State Queensland (QLD), Australia

  3. #3

    Re: Red light running crisis - or rhetoric?

    Richard Retting. For those who don't know the name, look it up. Every single pro-RLC study has his name on it.

    I wrote a term paper a while back that explored the red light camera issue. View it here.

  4. #4
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: Red light running crisis - or rhetoric?

    Quote Originally Posted by alphasubzero949
    Richard Retting. For those who don't know the name, look it up. Every single pro-RLC study has his name on it.

    I wrote a term paper a while back that explored the red light camera issue. View it here.
    Good deal - thanks for posting the link!

  5. #5
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    Re: Red light running crisis - or rhetoric?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kwozzie1
    [color=Orange] UK I thinks still does Amber before the rede but also before the green
    UK sequence is: red, red & amber, green, amber & back to red. The Highway Code states that 'amber means stop at the stop line. You may go on only if the amber appears after the stop line or are so close to it that to pull up might cause an accident.' There is, however, a strong body of opinion which appears to believe that amber means 'accelerate'. >

  6. #6
    Senior Member Kwozzie1's Avatar
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    Re: Red light running crisis - or rhetoric?

    appears to believe that amber means 'accelerate'.

    Yep... that is certainly true here
    Rex
    On the Sunshine Coast, in the Sunshine State Queensland (QLD), Australia

  7. #7

    Re: Red light running crisis - or rhetoric?

    I've seen the Red+Amber phase in Germany and I believe it should be adopted here in the states. It's helpful to know when to get in gear or be ready. I don't know if it will end the habit of "sleeping" on the greens though.

    My city is also one of two pilot cities in the country testing flashing yellow arrows as a replacement for the current five-ball setup for protected/permissive left turn combos.

  8. #8
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: Red light running crisis - or rhetoric?

    A small miracle has occurred:

    My wife and I go to a Gold's Gym every day; to get into the small shopping center where it's located, you had to make a left across
    a divided two-lane - with a left on "arrow" green only. The light took forever to change - notwithstanding that opposing traffic on the other side of the two-lane is sometimes nonexistent. So I routinely just ran the light (as did many others) after making sure the coast was clear (of traffic as well as cops).

    Ye gods - they finally changed the light! Arrow-only's gone - replaced by left on green!

    A small step, perhaps - but I'm grateful for something rather than nothing...

  9. #9
    jillsuncle
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    Re: Red light running crisis - or rhetoric?

    FYI In Florida they have a white line before you enter the intersection. If you pull into the intersection and the light turns red - you have just run a red light. Lame and bogus again and a great way to fleece tourists from Georgia.

    Vman in Delaware :-[

  10. #10
    trafficengn
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    Re: Red light running crisis - or rhetoric?

    Quote Originally Posted by alphasubzero949
    Richard Retting. For those who don't know the name, look it up. Every single pro-RLC study has his name on it.

    I wrote a term paper a while back that explored the red light camera issue. View it here.
    Good call Alpha. Richard Retting is the "expert" for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. You're right that pretty much every study that is pro-RLC has his fingerprints on it somewhere. The same is true for most studies from IIHS opposing reasonable speed limits or singing the praises of traffic enforcement in any way, shape or form.

    The link you gave doesn't work for me. I get an error message when I try to follow it. Too bad because I'd like to read your paper. Any ideas?


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