Running a Red Light Isn’t Merely a Game of “Do or Dare” –
It’s Downright Deadly…

Traffic LightsAny driver with more than a couple of weeks of driving experience has seen it – the traffic light shows “RED”, but a driver (or drivers) blast through that signal as if it didn’t exist.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation and the American Trauma Society, an amazing 63 percent of U.S. drivers will observe a red-light running incident more than once each and every week.


Let’s be blunt here. If a motor vehicle operator willfully ignores the red stop signal and barrels through an intersection, there’s almost no excuse he or she can give when an accident happens.

If the violator was the only one hurt, and their vehicle was the only thing damaged, then one could chalk it up to karma – or stupidity. However, that’s rarely the case.

Running red light accidents almost always involve an innocent victim or victims, someone who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Many never even see the vehicle shooting through the red light before it’s too late. Others may have a moment or two of pure panic before the crushing sound of metal and the screech of tires seal their fate.


Houston, Texas has the dubious honor of being the number one city in the United States with the most traffic fatalities due to drivers running red lights, this according to the National Coalition for Safer Roads.

In fact, Texas holds the additional notoriety of having two spots in the top ten list – Houston as number one and Dallas coming in number seven in red light accident deaths.

Here are the grim numbers from 2004 to 2013:

  • Houston – 181 deaths
  • Dallas – 71 deaths


If you’re in a car or truck and some “suicide jockey” thinks a red light means hurry up and go, at least you have some slight protection from any impact. Pedestrians fare much, much worse. There is nothing between them and a ton or two of careening steel.

The statistics from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety are quite clear: In half of all red light accident fatalities, it isn’t the violator that dies, it is other drivers and pedestrians. Quite depressingly, kids and young children are many times the ones being killed simply by trying to cross an intersection.


There is a profile of those most likely to disregard red light signals.

A 1996 Insurance Institute study found the following:

  • Red light runners tended to be younger, male drivers.
  • They tended to be less likely in using seat belts.
  • They had a tendency to have overall poorer driving records.
  • They also seemed to have accumulated multiple speeding violations.
  • Alcohol also played a role in these types of accidents.


To be fair, sometimes it’s not just driver fault at play. It has been found that too short a yellow-light can lead to otherwise careful drivers breaking the law and running the red.

Federal guidelines recommend yellow lights last from 3 to 6 seconds. Researchers have found by simply adding a single second to the shorter yellow-light duration signals, red light running violations went down by 36%.

It is interesting to note the much hated red-light cameras are many times placed at intersections where the yellow-light duration is on the lower end of the spectrum – making it a question of whether the cameras are there mostly for traffic safety or municipal revenue enhancement.

Red Light Cameras in Texas

Red light cameras in Texas are still in use. A bill to ban them did pass in the Texas Senate, but recently failed in the House. Much maligned and widely despised, these traffic enforcement methods do have their pros and cons.

Pros: Yes, red light cameras, when combined with longer duration yellow lights, can reduce violations (and by proxy accidents) by a significant number.

Red light cameras can also make drivers think twice before attempting to beat out the light.

Cons: As referenced above, red light cameras can, unfortunately, be used to generate revenue rather than reduce accidents.

Red light cameras have been cited as the cause of increased rear-end collisions. A driver may hit the brakes when he or she notices the cameras while the car behind them keeps going.

It is interesting to note in Texas if you’re caught running a red light by a police officer, that’s counted as a criminal offense and moving violation, and can result in fines of up to $200 or more, points on your license and perhaps mandatory driver’s school. (In Houston, the criminal fine for running a red light is $230.)

Get pinched by a red light camera, and the offense is civil, with fines capped at $75 per offense – with no points on your license, thus avoiding the resulting increase in insurance premiums.


The question remains, can anything be done in helping the cautious driver from becoming another statistic of a red light runner?

The answer is yes.

  • Eliminate traffic signals where possible. Intersections with traffic signals can be replaced by roundabouts, which have far less injury-related crashes.
  • Increase the yellow signal time. As noted above, this one fix alone can reduce accidents & violations by over a third.
  • Incorporate an “all red” interval. This simply means for a second or two, the traffic signals will be red at all points of the intersection.

Drivers also have their parts to play.

  • Instead of trying to dial that phone number or answer that text message, put down the smartphone yak-box and be aware of your surroundings.
  • When your signal turns green, don’t gun the engine and speed away – look before you leap. A second of observation may be the difference between a close call – and a trip to the city morgue.
  • The same goes for pedestrians and bike riders. Remember, it’s no contest between a vehicle and you. If you get hit, you’ll come out the loser 100% of the time. If you even think that car is going to run the red, wait a moment. Getting to the other side of the street a few seconds earlier can’t compensate for never making it at all.

If you’re in a hurry and are tempted to run a red light, imagine the consequences of getting into an accident. Financial penalties will be the least of your worries.

Injuring or killing another human being is something you can never make right, and that memory will haunt you the rest of your days. Is that worth the minute or two you may shave off your driving time by pushing the envelope?