Florida’s Red-Light Challenge

Monday Author:  Susanne Skinner

Red Means Stop, Red-light running, Florida driversWhen Florida drivers see a yellow traffic light it means only one thing:  hit the gas and go for it. Nine times out of ten the light is red before they’re half way through the intersection. Red-light running is dangerous, yet drivers do it all the time. It is a leading cause of car accidents, averaging 1,000 fatalities and 100,000 personal injuries every year.

It is also one of the most common traffic violations. It means the driver must come to a complete stop but instead proceeds through the intersection after the light has turned red.

The Federal Highway Administration reports 40 percent of all crashes occur in an intersection, making them the second largest accident category, the first being rear end collisions. Fifty percent of serious crashes happen in intersections and 20 percent of those are fatal. Red-light runners cause around 170,000 accidents each year, with nearly 800 of those resulting in the deaths of drivers, passengers and pedestrians.

Yellow Light –> Red Light

Driving in Florida is not the challenge it is in Boston. We have a grid system easily navigated and understood. Directional signs are plentiful, with lanes and intersections clearly marked.

My drive to the Humane Society includes a monumentally large four-way intersection.  Last week, as I was approaching it, the light turned yellow. There was one car in front of me so I slowed down and we both came to a full stop.

Four things happened simultaneously. The light turned red, the driver of the truck behind me suddenly moved into the lane to my left, then gunned his motor and raced through the intersection as the lights in the cross streets turned green.

I watched, horrified and unable to look away. My outside voice said, “What.The.Hell?” and my eyes were convinced they would never un-see what was about to happen.

Nothing happened. The truck driver completed his death race through the intersection and not a single car moved until he was on the other side. In Florida, running a red light is a thing. Smart drivers count to five after the lights turn green, and I am learning how to be a smart driver.

Red-Light Laws

In some states it’s illegal to enter an intersection on a yellow light. However, in Florida a steady (non-blinking) yellow light is a warning the light is about to turn red. It is not a message to speed up. Drivers are allowed to enter the intersection while the light is yellow, but not after it has turned red. A red-light ticket is $158.00 and in 2018 Florida issued 1.2 million of them.

Use Your Head Stop on Red, running a red light, intersection, traffic lawsPeople run red lights because they are:

  • In a hurry
  • Not paying attention or distracted
  • Unwilling to be inconvenienced or slowed down
  • Going too fast to step on the brakes
  • Ignoring the yellow light
  • Thrill seekers

No matter the reason, these drivers believe their time is more important than other people’s safety. Their careless actions result in T-bone collisions, flipped cars, pedestrian and motorcycle injuries and fatalities.

Red-light runners have a profile. Based on national statistics they are childless younger drivers, alone in the car and in a hurry to get to their destination—usually work or school.

Offenders are generally blue-collar workers employed in jobs that do not require a high level of education and many are unemployed.

I See What You Did There

Some states have automatic traffic cameras installed over intersections to catch red-light runners in the act. Their license plates are photographed and they are fined through the mail. Europe has been using this technology for nearly fifty years, but in the U.S. the laws vary by state and it is a slippery legal slope.

Traffic Camera, speeding, red-light running, traffic lawsSome states have legislation that limits or prohibits the use of speed or red-light cameras. Only 21 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands permit some form of red-light camera use. Ten states prohibit their use, and 19 states have no state laws concerning red-light camera use or enforcement.

Stupid is as Stupid Does

Running a red light is an elite form of stupidity. Drivers may get away with it once or twice, but statistics do not favor long-term success.

Crashes resulting from red-light runners are more likely than any other type of crash (47 percent versus 33 percent) to produce some degree of injury. Car accidents caused by running red lights are more likely to occur during the day on municipal roads and lead to a staggering number of accidents that could have been avoided by waiting 120 seconds—the average time a light is red.

Life is hard; it's harder if you're stupid, John Wayne, the DukeNothing is important enough to put your life or the life of another person at risk for 120 seconds. The person behind the wheel owns the difference between safety and stupidity. Arriving a few minutes later than planned is not the end of the world, but running a red light could be the end of someone’s life.