A Red is a Red is a Red

This week is National Stop on Red week. Which does not  mean you get to Go on Red all other times. The week of ...
by | August 7, 2007

Redlight This week is National Stop on Red week. Which does not  mean you get to Go on Red all other times.

The week of publicity is meant to bring awareness to the fact that lots of people get killed and injured driving badly. "Too many drivers regard traffic signals and laws as 'suggestions,' " says Leslie Blakey , executive director, National Campaign to Stop Red Light Running.

Between 1992 and 2000, fatal crashes at traffic signals increased 19 percent. In 2005, 800 people died due to crashes from running a red light, and there were more than 190,000 accidents. The campaign promotes the use of red-light cameras as one tool to make the roadways safer. More than 200 municipalities are using them now. And they're not just for red-light running anymore. They're also used to catch people speeding, failing to stop at stop signs and railroad crossings, and skipping payment at tollbooths.

The national campaign, which is sponsored in part by companies that provide the camera technology, this week issued a guide to automated traffic enforcement. Cities can read snapshots of other cities' experiences, and learn the steps for implementing a program. Various studies are included that show the value of camera enforcement. But opponents have several complaints. One is that cities install cameras for the revenue.

But in a 2003 ruling, a Washington, D.C., Superior Court judge dismissed that notion, saying the large number of people photographed driving at high speeds proved there was a problem that needed to be fixed. Another complaint is that the cameras are an invasion of privacy. But there is no expectation of privacy on a public street. Having an officer stop your car and peer at you, and into your vehicle, can feel a tad intrusive too.

Governments have to enforce traffic laws consistently for them to be effective, Blakey says. She cites the example of drivers who ignore flashing red lights and cross railroad tracks when they know a speeding train is coming. Punishment for getting caught: Death. They do it anyway. Yet, if they know they're always going to get a $50 ticket for doing it, they tend to stop taking the chance. Those crazy humans.

Ellen Perlman
Ellen Perlman | Former columnist | mailbox@governing.com