Why More Red Traffic Lights Make Driving More Dangerous

Wednesday, December 26, 2012 - 11:37am

How many people have sought out the need for a long term disability lawyer after a red light related traffic accident? Probably, thousands. According to the National Highways Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Traffic Safety Facts 2008 report, there were 2.3 million reported intersection-related accidents. Of those, 733,000 resulted in injuries, and out of which about one-fifth were caused by red-light runners. Intersections are increasingly creating a safety hazard. This is a big problem in some of our larger cities. For example, in Houston in 2004, over 900 people were killed and an estimated 168,000 were injured in crashes that in some way involved red light running. This substantial injury volume speaks to the need for long term disability lawyers in Houston. In fact, to counter those numbers, traffic agencies like the NHTSA turn to true and tried strategies that have been traditionally utilized to manage traffic concerns, namely the 4 E’s  approach (Engineering, Enforcement, Education and Encouragement).  

The first of the E’s, engineering offers traffic calming solutions such as signs, installation of new sidewalks, markings, and strategically placed traffic lights, and red light cameras.  The second E, enforcement is managed by issuing tickets and other determents. The last 2 E’s, educational and encouragement utilize campaigns that discourage dangerous driving behavior.  Despite this multi-pronged effort, progress is slow and controversial. Take for example the red light camera’s success as a traffic calming device. There are conflicting reports. The National Motorists Association website offers various reasons why the cameras actually “make our roads less safe” and cities like Albuquerque agree.  Albuquerque cancelled its program because of what they saw as an increase in crash risk. While on the other hand, a city like Chicago determined that red light cameras reduced dangerous angle crashes by 30% and have continued with their program.

The solution, however, may lie in “shared spaces.” This traffic calming concept was developed by Hans Monderman, a Dutch traffic expert. He saw the "safety in being unsafe" and others agreed with him. Hamilton-Baillie Associates, a traffic and transportation consultancy group from the United Kingdom agreed and did some research on this emerging concept to prove the case. They showed that once traditional barriers such as signs and traffic lights are either removed or re-engineered and the segregation between pedestrians and cars is minimized, accidents were minimized.  They found that people were forced to be more aware of their surroundings and be less reliant on traffic lights as a mode of control.  The town of Drachten in the Netherlands made the international news when it implemented the strategy and saw a decline in accidents.

The strategy however raises concerns.  The shared concept relies heavily on visual contact to establish priority of space use; this puts the blind and partial sighted pedestrians at risk. It is hoped that as more communities embrace this traffic calming strategy, residents can help determine which traffic calming strategies can work effectively in their locale. 

Based on federal data, traffic light locations are the scenes for many car crashes. It may benefit some cities to investigate the potential of utilizing shared spaces to cut down red light related accidents. This may require a complete reversal of how people view the segregation of vehicles and pedestrians but may in the end save lives.  


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