Some motorists may feel that traffic signals are an inconvenience and driving through them is a minor offense. But driving through a traffic light, known as red light running, can cause fatal motor vehicle accidents.

What it is

A motorist commits a violation when they drive their vehicle through the signal light after it turns red. Drivers who are unintentionally in an intersection when the light changes, such as waiting to turn left, are not violating traffic laws.

Where a right turn on red is allowed, motorists run the light if they do not come to a complete stop before turning. Drivers also violate the law if they turn right at red at intersections where this is not allowed.

Consequences

In 2018, there were 846 deaths in accidents involving red light running. Almost half of the fatalities were pedestrians, bicyclists, and occupants of other vehicles.  An estimated 139,000 people suffered injuries in these accidents in 2018.

Offenders

In a AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety 2018 national survey, 85 percent of drivers said that it is very or extremely dangerous to drive through a traffic signal. However, 31 percent of respondents admitted committing this offense within the previous 30 days.

In fatal red-light running crashes involving multiple vehicles during 2018, the offenders were more likely to be male, younger, and have earlier accidents or drunk driving convictions.  Red light running motorists were more likely to be speeding, alcohol-impaired when the accident occurred and less likely to possess a driver’s license.    

Solutions

Communities have ways to address this danger. First, providing adequate time for yellow signal lights have been shown to reduce the frequency of red light running and lower the risk of total accidents, injury collisions and right-angle accidents.

Red light cameras can reduce this danger even further. These devices are connected to the traffic signal and to sensors that monitor traffic before the crosswalk or stop line. It captures a vehicle that does not stop at the red light. Police officers or authorized government employees review these videos and citations are issued if there is clear evidence of a traffic offense.