It’s well known that certain conditions increase the likelihood of traffic accidents. People are more likely to be involved in a crash during the holiday season, for example, because it’s winter, the roads are icy, there are more people driving, and people are more likely to be stressed or even intoxicated. More recently, however, a new location has risen to the fore as a central crash site: red lights.
Red light crashes – accidents that occur because someone runs a red light – are at a 10-year high, and fatalities are soaring, but what’s behind this uptick? Many believe that distracted driving may be fueling the increase, as inattentive drivers put everyone’s safety on the line.
Distracted Driving – A Bad Habit With Many Forms
Just about everyone is guilty of engaging in distracted driving occasionally. Most often it’s because the driver is using electronics while behind the wheel, but according to Ketterman, Rowland, and Westlund, distracted driving can also be caused by the driver interacting with a passenger or pet, when something outside the vehicle catches their attention, or when they’re eating or drinking behind the wheel. In other words, anything you do behind the wheel, besides focus on the road, can be categorized as distracted driving. That’s why the CDC breaks down distracted driving into three categories: cognitive, manual, and visual. If your eyes, hands, or head aren’t on task, then you’re distracted.
Why Red Lights?
Distracted driving may contribute to accidents, but why is it increasing the number of red light crashes and fatalities, specifically? In part, this is because crosswalks are found at red lights; AAA reports that about 5% of red light fatalities involve pedestrians or bicyclists. Since they lack the protection of another vehicle, pedestrians and bicyclists are more likely to be severely injured or killed in the event of an accident, but that 5% value still indicates that these groups aren’t the primary victims of such accidents.
One theory as to why red-light crashes have increased so much has to do with the larger economy. Ten years ago, the country was in the grips of a major economic recession, and that meant less driving across the board. Now that the economic recovery is well-established, more people are on the road commuting and hurrying from Point A to Point B. These drivers aren’t just more likely to be involved in a red light accident because they distracted, though, but because they’re rushing. In another AAA survey, nearly a third of drivers sped through a red light in the prior month. Some may have noticed as it was too late because they were distracted until that moment, but others made the intention and somewhat reckless decision to push into oncoming traffic as the light changed.
Tech Solutions And Struggles
If technology is one major cause of distracted driving, it may also be true that it can help solve the problem. Many cities are turning to red-light cameras to catch drivers in the act, which has been shown to increase driver vigilance at those intersections. And, as cars become more advanced, a growing number of cars are likely to come equipped with emergency stopping technology that can detect a crash. Right now, though, both simple in-car tech like lane maintaining sensors that enable a degree of distraction are pushing traffic trends in the wrong direction. We need a renewed revolution of focused drivers to drive down accidents on our roads.