Stopping for red lights saves lives

Gather round, red-light runners, and look through the eyes of your potential victims. Here’s the situation: You’re stopped, first in line in the “thru” lane at a red traffic light, where the secondary street you’re on crosses a main thoroughfare. A large vehicle stopped in the left-turn lane beside you blocks your view to that side. The light is on a slow cycle, so by the time it turns green, everyone waiting for it is impatient and ready to go. Except the big vehicle beside you doesn’t budge. Maybe the driver is daydreaming, and hasn’t noticed he has the green. So, you punch the accelerator. And in the split second before you die, you glimpse the 18-wheeler charging you broadside at high speed — running a light that’s been red for several seconds.

Fortunately, you didn’t die. I did. Or would have, if I didn’t routinely check for cross traffic when the light turns green. I didn’t punch the accelerator. I eased into the crosswalk, so I could see around the vehicle on my left — and hit the brakes as the red-runner roared past.

There was a time when everyone stopped for red lights nearly every time. When your light turned red, the cross-traffic light turned green at the same instant. So if you ran a red, odds against your getting through the intersection intact just weren’t worth the risk.

But nowadays, after your light turns red, there’s a pause before it turns green for cross traffic. So, folks have gotten used to thinking it’s “safe” to run a light for a second or two after it turns red. But sometimes, in the red-runner’s mind, that second or two somehow stretches to five or 10. Or maybe he or she doesn’t see the red light in time, because of another innovation — the smartphone — that makes smart people stupid, by diverting their attention from where it’s most needed.

Still think traffic cameras are just a scam to enrich local bureaucrats? Think again. They save lives, by reminding drivers of a real risk — not only to life, limb, and property, but also to their wallets — and thus significantly deter dangerous behavior. Evidence? Since it was announced that cameras would cease generating tickets, incidence of red-light running has risen. How do we know? First, the broadside accident count has gone up. Second, though they no longer issue tickets, the cameras still record violations.

Granted, the complainers have a point. No one contests that photos are used to bust shoplifters, robbers, and security threats, because the accused has legal recourse to address mistaken identity or extenuating circumstances. So, let’s fix this omission in the traffic camera system. Let’s not use it as an excuse to trash an otherwise cost-effective means of protecting life, limb, and property.

Traffic safety isn’t a game. It’s literally life and death, and too big a job to be handled by posting a cop on every corner. Running red lights is illegal, not because bureaucrats love harassing the public, but because it maims and kills people. Don’t like fines? Obey the law. If you don’t, and you’re fined, be grateful that’s the least costly kind of reminder to keep your driving out of “game” mode; the alternatives are far worse. Remember, the cameras help protect you, too, against others’ stupidity.

One of our regular community contributors, S.A. Joyce holds a degree in philosophy and is retired from AT&T.

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