Drivers who make a split-second decision to
try to beat a red light are to blame for the deaths of more than
800 people and an estimated 200,000 injuries in the United States
each year, according to a study of government figures.
The study to be released today by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that between 1992 and 1998, almost 6,000 people died in such crashes, and more than half of them were pedestrians and occupants of other vehicles hit by red light runners.
Another 2,779 deaths occurred in the vehicles running the red lights. During the same period, about 1.5 million people were injured.
“Red light running is more than just a form of aggressive driving. People are dying and getting hurt needlessly because of it,” said Ed Rust Jr., chairman of the institute and chief executive of State Farm Insurance, said in a written statement.
Researchers from the nonprofit institute studied data from the Department of Transportation’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System and found that fatal crashes at traffic signals increased 18 percent from 1992 and 1998, more than three times the rate of increase for all other fatal crashes during that time.
Arizona Tops List
In each state, the researchers examined the rate of red light running deaths per 100,000 residents and determined that the states with the highest death rate were Arizona, with a rate of 7.1 deaths; Nevada with 3.9; Michigan with 3.7; Texas with 3.5; and Alabama with 3.4.
Among cities, the rate was highest in Phoenix, with 10.8 deaths per 100,000 people, followed by Memphis, Tenn., with a rate of 8.0; Mesa, Ariz., with a rate of 7.8 deaths; Tucson, Ariz., and St. Petersburg, Fla., both with a rate of 7.6 deaths.
In releasing the data, the institute endorsed the use of red light cameras, which photograph vehicles running red lights and ticket violators by mail. Such programs, used in about 40 U.S. communities, reduce red light running by about 40 percent, according to the institute.
However, privacy advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have said they are wary because of privacy concerns.
“We haven’t opposed cameras for the specific use enforcing traffic violations,” said Barry Steinhardt, associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “We are concerned about mission creep, that these cameras will be used for other purposes, and it’s classically true that surveillance techniques created for one purpose are rarely restricted to that purpose.”