In case you missed it, last week was National Stop on Red Week as proclaimed by the National Coalition for Safer Roads.
The initiative designed to educate the public on the dangers of running red lights didn't attract as much national attention as campaigns focused on curbing speeding and distracted and drunken driving, but it probably should have, said Mike Hanson, director of the state Department of Public Safety's Office of Traffic Safety. Drivers who run lights have become a big problem on the roads as motorists continue to engage in risky behaviors.
"It's more of the general disregard of the rules of the road," Hanson said of drivers who don't stop at red lights. "Yellow does not mean hit the gas and speed up and get to the intersection before it turns red. People are pushing the envelope one to three seconds after the light has changed."
In Minnesota, the number of red light offenders cited fell from 13,745 in 2017 to 6,111 last year, according to court records.
Still, the larger scope of violations is significant. A 2020 survey by AAA found nearly a quarter of motorists admitted to committing the offense in the past 30 days, even though about 85% of drivers perceive running a red light as extremely or very dangerous. Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) showed more than 4.2 million drivers nationwide failed to stop at a red light in 2021.
The results can be deadly, as a fiery crash earlier this month in suburban Los Angeles showed. A driver of a Mercedes sped through a red light without braking and struck two vehicles in an intersection. Six people died, including one person found in a burned car, according to the California Highway Patrol.
Crashes attributed to someone blowing a red light led to more than 11,800 deaths and 139,000 injuries nationwide between 2004 and 2018, NHTSA data showed. In Minnesota, there were 813 deaths and 4,189 serious injuries at intersections between 2017 and 2021, but those numbers include intersections without signals and stop signs, Department of Public Safety data shows.
The rise in running red lights could be attributed to cavalier attitudes, officials say. AAA's study found nearly 45% of drivers believe they won't be ticketed.
Such offenses can be difficult to enforce, Hanson said, because officers must be in the right place at the right time to observe the infraction, then stop the offending driver.
The Office of Traffic Safety posted messages about National Stop on Red Week on its Facebook and Twitter pages last week. It's telling that there has to be a campaign for a commonly known law, Hanson said.
"Our goal is voluntary compliance," he said. "We should not have to correct this bad behavior. Drivers should take care of that on their own."