On Feb. 1, my dear friend Leah was hit and killed by a driver who ran a red light along Patteson Drive. She was involved in just one of the 260,000 accidents caused annually by red light running, according to a 1999 study by researcher R.A. Retting and colleagues.
After this happened, I saw a noticeable change in the mindset of the people around me; they were determined to fix the problem. Student Government Association (SGA) set up a pedestrian safety board. There were safety walks all over campus and there were petitions focused on pedestrian safety. It was a wake-up call.
Running a red light is an almost normalized phenomenon that most people engage in occasionally. It doesn’t hurt anyone, right? Well, until it does.
I started a research project under the guidance of Dr. Joshua Woods. We looked at data on red light runners in Morgantown, West Virginia that had been collected by Dr. Woods’ research methods students over a seven-year period at 10 different intersections in the downtown area. Teams of students observed traffic patterns during a total of 1,972 light cycles.
We found that 34 percent of the light cycles had at least one red light runner. This means that in every three light cycles there is at least one red light runner. At least one red light runner sometimes translates to more than one, with the highest number recorded being six red light runners in one light cycle. That is simply too often.
The research focused on three characteristics of the driver – ‘perceived’ sex, license plate and cell-phone use. Women were just as likely to run a red light as men, drivers with an in-state license plate ran a red light at roughly the same rate as those with out-of-state license plates and cell phones users were just as likely as non cell phone users to run a red light.
Another variable focused on was the locations of the intersections. There were big differences in the rate of red light runners at certain intersections. We found no correlation between traffic volume and red-light running. We did find a correlation between red light runners and state-owned roads. State-owned roads through Morgantown had the highest rates of red light runners by far. While there is not a clear-cut answer as to why this is happening at these intersections, it should be a point of concern that these roads have a substantially higher number of red light runners compared to other intersections.
Red light running is a human-made error and thus preventable. One of the best-known examples is camera reinforcement. Placing cameras at intersections has proven to lessen red light running, and less accidents happen at these intersections. This seems to be a reasonable solution for Morgantown’s red light running problem and could potentially contribute to reducing red light runners.
None of this will bring my friend back, but it might save someone else’s life. Running a red light might save someone 30 seconds, but in the event of an accident, that isn’t worth it.