Amid national campaign, Southern Utah officials look to tackle deadly path of red-light running

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ST. GEORGE — On average, two lives are lost in crashes involving a red-light runner every day across the U.S., prompting a traffic safety campaign to shine a spotlight on the dangers associated with the behavior, while also reminding the public that stopping at a red light is not a suggestion for those who have time – it’s the law.

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The annual “Stop on Red” safety campaign runs one week each year beginning Aug. 1 and was launched as a national campaign to encourage the implementation and use of automated enforcement programs to deter red-light running. This campaign also provides an opportunity to remind drivers of one of the deadliest driving behaviors across Utah and beyond – failing to obey any traffic control device, particularly when the light is red.

A spike in the number of crashes caused by aggressive driving, as well as the significant number of crashes that occur in busy intersections, led to the development and implementation of automated enforcement technology to detect and cite motorists who enter a signalized intersection on a red light.

‘Tattle Tale Light’

Intersections in Washington City may soon be equipped with automation of their own, Washington City Police Chief Jason Williams told St. George News.

While still in the planning stages, Williams said the department is looking into implementing an automated device: a small, nondescript light dubbed the “Tattle Tale Light” that would attach to the top of the traffic control light. This device would provide additional support for patrol officers to better determine if a motorist failed to obey a traffic light.

The device is equipped with sensors that can detect movement within a certain range, and if that movement occurs after the light has turned to red, then 48 high-intensity LED’s flash a bright blue light to alert officers.

Normally, patrol officers need to be very near an intersection to determine if a driver has run a light. But with this device, Williams said they can monitor traffic from greater distances.

The equipment can also help in cases where there is a question of whether the light was red at the time, or when conflicting statements make it impossible for an officer to determine what actually occurred, particularly if an incident results in a crash.

Nothing has been approved as of yet, he said, but the department is looking into various options designed to act as a deterrent and help motorists adhere to traffic control devices – which in turn, he said, enhances traffic safety all the way around.

Stock image | Photo by N Rotteveel/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

Deadly consequences

Another focus of the Stop on Red campaign is aimed at raising awareness and advising drivers that failing to obey a traffic control device can have deadly consequences.

In fact, crashes involving a driver who runs a red light resulted in more than 800 deaths and 143,000 injuries nationwide in 2019 alone, the organization said.

A study released by AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety in 2019 found that more than 85% of those drivers surveyed said that running a red light was dangerous – but more than one-third of those questioned also admitted to running a red light within the last 30 days.

The study also revealed patterns in fatal crash data when a signalized intersection is involved. For example, younger male drivers with a history of prior crashes were more likely to be involved in this type of deadly crash, as well as those with prior alcohol-related convictions.

Moreover, the analysis also showed that red light runners were more likely to be speeding or alcohol-impaired at the time, and were also less likely to have a valid driver’s license when the crash occurred.

In Utah, behaviors associated with aggressive driving include speeding, running red lights and stop signs, failing to yield, tailgating and weaving.

Last year, Utah saw a significant spike in number of fatalities associated with aggressive driving, and the number of people killed more than tripled, when compared to the data from 2012, according to Zero Fatalities Utah.

Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Cameron Roden told St. George News that while troopers do not handle as many crashes that occur in controlled intersections as officers working in larger metropolitan areas, troopers still see their fair share of intersection-related crashes throughout the year.

As such, Roden said one driving behavior that can lead to an intersection-related crash is when drivers are in a hurry, and instead of approaching a yellow light and slowing down, he said “they speed up to beat the light before it turns red.”

While they may clear the intersection in time, more likely than not the light has turned red before they actually cleared it, so “they are still running a red light,” he said.

2020 file photo of fatal three-vehicle crash on state Route 191 in San Juan County, Utah, May 10, 2020 | Photo courtesy of the Utah Highway Patrol, St. George News

A yellow light is an indicator to slow down, he added, it does not mean to speed up.

Distracted driving is also one of the leading causes of failing to obey a traffic control device, as these drivers are less likely to see the light has turned yellow, so they continue through well after it has turned red.

Roden said the primary focus for any motorist should be on driving, so reducing the distractions in the car can reduce the risk of running a red light as well.

Right-hand turns on red

Hurricane Police Officer Dan Raddatz told St. George News that often officers respond to crashes involving a driver who failed to stop for a red light during a right-hand turn.

“For some reason, drivers don’t believe they need to stop for a red light if they are turning right,” Raddatz said.

Instead of blowing through the light to make the turn, drivers are supposed to make a full stop, which also allows them time to look for other motorists, he said, but more importantly, to look for pedestrians, which can be more difficult to see.

He mentioned a crash involving two teenage girls that were struck by a vehicle that reportedly failed to stop before making a right-hand turn.

One incident reported Tuesday was an example of just such an event. The crash involved a motorist who failed to stop in time for a red light and struck a pickup truck that triggered a chain reaction resulting in five cars being involved in the crash.

Another incident that took place in April involved a hit-and-run crash that left two teenage girls injured when they were struck by a vehicle while crossing 1150 West State Street in Hurricane. The driver reportedly ran a red light, and after striking the teens, the suspect allegedly fled from the scene.

Raddatz also said the department recently launched “Traffic Tip Thursday” as a way to improve traffic safety with weekly tips and reminders to help motorists to avoid dangerous driving behaviors. In fact, obeying traffic signals was the topic of last week’s post.

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety supports the Stop on Red campaign and is an alliance that includes consumer, medical, public health, law enforcement, safety groups and insurance companies and agents that have combined forces to improve road safety in the U.S.

The collaboration is aimed at encouraging the adoption of federal and state laws, policies and programs that prevent motor vehicle crashes, save lives, reduce injuries and contain costs, which are paid by every driver.

The organization is also focused on automated enforcement programs that can deter red light running as well as speeding, and those efforts have led to several important safety advances implemented across the country so far, including inexpensive requirements for most new vehicles to be equipped with automatic emergency braking, as well as impaired driving prevention technology and reinforced seatbacks that will not collapse and injure rear seat occupants in a crash.

Other improvements involve detection and alert systems to reduce the number of heatstroke deaths for children and others inadvertently left alone in cars, all part of the “Invest in America Act” that has already been adopted by the U.S. House of Representatives to improve traffic safety.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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