pandemic of red light running

There is a pandemic of red light running in Sacramento, and probably everywhere else. There have always been some red light runners. But since the pandemic emptied many streets of prudent drivers and left them wide open to egregious violators, the problem is much worse now. I am not talking about drivers who ignore or speed up on yellow, and are still in the intersection when the light turns red, I am talking about drivers who enter the intersection when the signal is already red. Often, they speed up approaching the intersection, guaranteeing that any crash will be more serious.

I know many people will not believe this, or will offer up one of many windshield perspectives on why this is not really a problem: bicyclists run red lights all the time and pedestrians jump into the street, so that crashes are their fault and not the fault of the driver. Bullshit. This is an intentional behavior by people who know that they are driving in a dangerous manner, but think they’ll get away with it. And they often do, since other drivers and walkers and bicyclists mostly know not to enter an intersection without looking to see if any of these criminals are coming.

So, if you are a doubter, I ask that you spend time observing a busy or moderately busy intersection. It probably won’t take more than 10 minutes before you see someone run a red light. This behavior truly is pandemic.

One of my observations is that about 2/3 of these are drivers of high value cars, BMWs and huge pickup trucks being the worst offenders. These people, in the unlikely event that they get a ticket for their violation, probably just see this as a minor expense for driving the way they want to. If you don’t believe that the drivers of different kinds of vehicles behave differently, please see Driving Drunk: Car Models with the Most DUIs.

A walker who steps off the curb when the pedestrian signal gives them the right of way are significantly more likely to be hit, or narrowly avoiding being hit, by these criminal red light runners. Same for a bicyclists or other drivers who enter the intersection when the light tells them it is their turn. The situation is slightly different for walkers, who do have the right of way, and bicyclists and drivers, who can enter the intersection when it is safe to do so. But in all cases, the violator is endangering the lives of others.

Red light running is a behavior that is certain to result, sooner or later, in serious injury or fatality. As such, it should be a high priority for enforcement. Both red light cameras and on-the-ground enforcement are needed, and must continue until this criminal behavior recedes at least to pre-pandemic levels, and then beyond that, until it is eliminated.

Some specifics:

  • red light running tickets should be based on the value of the vehicle, so that high income people with high value cars are penalized at a level that will actually change their behavior, and conversely that low income people are not penalized in a way that leads to a downward spiral
  • all red light tickets, whether camera or on-the-ground, must require an appearance before a judge; short-term suspension of the drivers license should be the default punishment meted out; repeated violations should result in permanent revocation of the drivers license and confiscation of the vehicle
  • law enforcement should prioritize observation of and enforcement of driver behaviors that are most likely to result in serious injury or fatality; these behaviors in my mind include egregious speeding (more than 20% over speed limit), failure to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk, and of course red light running; CHP really only cars about speeding, but this must change. Other law enforcement agencies are more likely to pay attention to other violations, but still not enough.

Some places have red light cameras to catch red light runners, but many places do not. The City of Sacramento has eleven locations with red light cameras, out of about 900 intersections. Sacramento County and the City of Citrus Heights have cameras, but I’ve been unable to find locations or numbers. Rancho Cordova has four locations. The City of Folsom apparently has none.

Author: Dan Allison

Dan Allison is a Safe Routes to School Coordinator in the Sacramento area. Dan dances and backpacks, as much as possible.