A traffic study released by AAA in August 2019 found that fatalities related to drivers running red lights hit their peak in 2017. There were 939 deaths involving drivers illegally going through intersections that year, an increase for the third straight year and up 31 percent from 2009.

Data from the study tracked figures from 2008 – 2017, including drivers, passengers, those in other vehicles and pedestrians killed during these accidents. In more than half of all instances, AAA found that the red light runner was not the one killed. Fatality rates are higher for bystanders and those in the struck vehicle.

Per capita, Arizona had the highest rate of fatalities caused by running a red light, while New Hampshire had the lowest rate. In Connecticut, there were 54 total fatalities during the time period of this study.

In spite of these dire findings, a survey conducted by AAA’s Traffic Safety Culture Index in 2018 found that one-third of all drivers admit to running a red light over the past 30 days. Why and how do these accidents happen?

A Confluence of Factors

traffic light closeup

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) reports that nearly 45 percent of all collisions occur at intersections, with running red lights and stop signs being a primary cause. In these situations, drivers may fail to stop or don’t stop in time, causing them to travel into the intersection.

AAA found that two big factors are at play: Americans are driving roughly five percent more than they were a decade ago and distracted driving, partially fueled by smartphones and vehicle infotainment systems, has also been on the rise.

Why Drivers Run Red Lights

In today’s fast-paced world, drivers can get impatient at stop lights. Those concerned about being late to work or an important appointment may:

  • Speed up to “make the yellow”, but get stuck in the middle of an intersection, which increases the chances of being T-boned.
  • Speed up to pass through more intersections but have to slam on the brakes once the yellow light changes to red. In this case, you run the risk of striking someone in the crosswalk or could be struck by another motorist with a green light.
  • Not even notice the red light. Traveling too fast, using a device or simply zoning out behind the wheel could find you in the middle of an intersection without the right of way.
  • Speed up and hit a car making a legal left-hand turn at the intersection.
  • Have an obstructed view of the light due to cars in front. In this scenario, the driver goes with the flow of traffic, not realizing the light is red.

Speeding is a primary culprit behind many red light accidents and one of the main reasons why these crashes can be so severe. Traveling at a high rate of speed towards a yellow light means the driver either has to plow on through the intersection or slam on the brakes.

What Counts As Running a Red?

Based on requirements from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), a driver commits a red-light violation any time he or she is in the intersection after the light has changed from yellow to red, with the exception of those who ended up in the intersection while waiting for the light to change. Those who don’t stop or stop too short in an intersection after the light changes are also counted.

These qualifications make red-light accidents one of the most common causes of urban crashes. According to data from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), these incidents occur every 20 minutes at city intersections and are more likely to happen over Memorial Day weekend or on Friday nights between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Red Light Accidents Are More Severe

As mentioned, speed plays a significant role in the severity of red-light accidents and could result in two cars hitting each other at high speeds. Even without a second car involved, high speeds:

  • Contribute to a greater amount of property damage
  • Cause severe, life-threatening injuries
  • Correlate with a greater likelihood of totaling your car
  • Can injure or kill pedestrians, motorcycle riders and bicyclists going through the intersection

On the subject of injuries, the IIHS found that 132,000 individuals were injured in red-light crashes in 2017 alone. T-bone accidents are a primary culprit – when one vehicle hits the other at a right angle. While cars offer greater protection to the front and back, passenger vehicles don’t have side crumple zones. Even with airbag technology, the impact from a T-bone still travels through the vehicle, with very little separating the occupants from its force.
Were you the victim of a red-light crash? Whether your car was hit by another vehicle or a car hit you in the crosswalk, you don’t have to go through this ordeal alone. To hold the reckless driver responsible, start your claim with the lawyers at Trantolo & Trantolo. To begin, contact our experienced team today.