Throughout Texas, red-light runners menace innocent drivers, but nowhere more than in Houston.
According to the National Coalition for Safer Roads, Houston had more red-light running fatalities than any city in the United States from 2004-2013, recording 181 deaths. Dallas was seventh on the list with 71 fatalities after drivers ran red lights.
Ironically, the thing that’s been found to do most to reduce red-light runner crashes is exactly what Houston adopted, then abandoned, during that time span: so-called “red-light cameras.”
Operating automatically while affixed above intersections, such cameras capture images — and license plate numbers — of vehicles running red lights, after which their drivers are sent citations and fined.
Houston began using red-light cameras in September of 2006, but they were discontinued in November of 2010 after voters banned them. Opponents of the controversial cameras complained that they lined the pockets of a for-profit business that installed them for the city and served no other purpose.
Tell that to the 200,000 persons injured each year by red-light runners, who are the No. 1 cause of injuries in urban collisions, and the 800 persons killed by them. Those figures are from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
As far as costs go, those deaths, injuries and damages to vehicles cost Americans $378 million per month from 2007-2011, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
According to the NHTSA, red-light running crash deaths dropped 22% nationwide between 2007 and 2011, a time when the number of communities using red-light cameras rose by 135%.
A total of 201 fewer persons died in such crashes in 2011 compared to 2007, the NHTSA says, and that involved $1.2 billion in savings.
As for Houston, statistics show that crashes in intersections across the city more than doubled after red-light cameras were removed from the select locations where they’d been operating.
During the four years in which red-light cameras were used in Houston, 50 high-risk intersections featuring the cameras had 4,100 crashes. During the next four years after cameras were removed, crashes more than doubled, with 9,000 in those intersections. Fatal crashes also rose 30%.
What was that again about red-light cameras’ only purpose being to pad the pockets of their creators?
But for cities whose residents balk at paying fines after being caught by a camera, there are alternatives to red-light cameras. One of them is to decrease the duration of yellow lights serving to caution drivers that a red light is next.
The Federal Highway Administration advises that yellow lights last from three to six seconds. The FHA believes drivers disregard yellow lights if they last too long and points to studies showing that longer yellow lights actually contribute to an increase in auto crashes.
A far less practical strategy is to create more “roundabout” intersections with no red lights, but rather yield signs and merging traffic, as at the traffic circle on South Main in Houston near the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
As for who is likely to die in red-light crashes, the IIHS says half of them are red-light runners, and the other half are drivers or pedestrians struck by them.
Pedestrians, of course, are especially vulnerable, with 32,000 pedestrians injured and 933 killed at intersections in the U.S. in 2012, reports the NHTSA.
As for cars being hit, one reason such crashes are so catastrophic is that they tend to be high-speed collisions. Drivers who run red lights often are in a hurry and are heedless of other drivers.
The coalition — a non-profit Texas organization geared toward road safety — ranked Dallas No. 7 in its survey of red light crash deaths. San Antonio did not make the list.
In the 10-year period of the survey from 2004-2013, Houston recorded 181 fatalities due to drivers running red lights, while Dallas recorded 71. Over the same span, a total of 7,799 people died nationwide. In 2013 alone, 697 persons were killed and 127,000 were injured in car accidents caused by drivers running red lights.
According to the coalition, drivers who run red lights are the No. 1 cause of injuries in urban collisions. Among those who are killed, the survey found that about 50% are pedestrians, bicyclists and persons in vehicles hit by red light runners . The other half are drivers and passengers of vehicles running red lights.
The complete list of Top 10 cities for red light fatalities includes:
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has compiled similar statistics, reporting that 800 people die and 200,000 are injured annually in collisions in which a driver ran a red light. In fact, the IIHS found that a red light accident occurs once every 12 minutes.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says these crashes are especially dangerous since they so often involve a vehicle being hit on the side, or broadside. The NHTSA says rush hour is the most dangerous time for red light runners, with an accident occurring every 5 minutes.
The coalition found that red light runners are more prevalent during peak travel times during summer holidays, notably Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day. During holiday weekends related to those days, 1-5 p.m. on Fridays was the most dangerous time.
In all, the coalition found that over 3.7 million drivers ran a red light during 2014.
The IIHS says one good way to reduce red light running is to install cameras at intersections. The IIHS did studies in Oxnard, CA, Fairfax, VA and Arlington, VA that showed drops of up to 40% after red light cameras were installed to capture photos of offenders’ license plates without a police presence. Lawbreakers then are sent a citation via mail.
The IIHS says increasing the time a yellow light is displayed by one second also may reduce red light running. Alternatively, roundabouts also may reduce accidents at intersections, though this potential solution is less practical to implement.
The City of Houston had red light cameras for several years, but in 2010 voters passed a referendum calling a halt to the cameras, which had been placed in scattered intersections across the city.
If a loved one in your family was injured or killed by a driver who ran a red light, notify the car accident lawyers of Jim Adler & Associates. You may be legally entitled to substantial financial recovery for your losses.