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Running Red, Running Dead

traffic light red car crash accident road truck vehicle
AP / CBS
Red light running is one of the greatest highway dangers facing motorists and pedestrians across America today, reports CBS News Transportation Correspondent Bob Orr.

Between 1992 and 1998, nearly 6,000 people were killed by drivers running red lights, and the number is rising.

By The Numbers
Here's a state-by-state look at deaths attributed to running red lights. State names are at left; number of deaths between 1992 and 1998 is at center; death rate per 100,000 people is at right. States with the most deaths per capita top the list. Note: Between 1992 and 1998, there were 5,951 deaths nationwide attributed to running of red lights. The per capita rate nationwide was 2.3 deaths per 100,000 people.

Ariz. ... 305 ... 7.1
Nev. ... 59 ... 3.9
Mich. ... 355 ... 3.7
Texas ... 663 ... 3.5
Ala. ... 143 ... 3.4
N.M. ... 56 ... 3.4
Fla. ... 434 ... 3.1
Calif. ... 956 ... 3.0
Del. ... 21 ... 2.9
Ind. ... 157 ... 2.7
Ga. ... 195 ... 2.7
Colo. ... 100 ... 2.7
Alaska ... 16 ... 2.7
S.C. ... 98 ... 2.6
Md. ... 127 ... 2.5
Tenn. ... 130 ... 2.5
Neb. ... 37 ... 2.3
Ky. ... 83 ... 2.2
La. ... 93 ... 2.2
N.C. ... 147 ... 2.0
N.J. ... 153 ... 1.9
Ill. ... 219 ... 1.8
Pa. ... 218 ... 1.8
Mo. ... 95 ... 1.8
Minn. ... 78 ... 1.7
Conn. ... 52 ... 1.6
Utah ... 31 ... 1.6
N.Y. ... 253 ... 1.4
Ohio ... 155 ... 1.4
Iowa ... 37 ... 1.3
Wis. ... 66 ... 1.3
Ore. ... 40 ... 1.3
W.Va. ... 21 ... 1.2
Wash. ... 62 ... 1.1
Okla. ... 37 ... 1.1
Kan. ... 28 ... 1.1
Miss. ... 28 ... 1.0
Va. ... 64 ... 1.0
Idaho ... 10 ... 0.9
Mass. ... 49 ... 0.8
Hawaii ... 9 ... 0.8
Maine ... 9 ... 0.7
Ark. ... 17 ... 0.7
S.D. ... 4 ... 0.6
Wyo. ... 2 ... 0.4
Vt. ... 2 ... 0.3
N.H. ... 3 ... 0.3
Mont. ... 2 ... 0.2
R.I. ... 2 ... 0.2
N.D. ... 0 ... 0.0

Source: Associated Press

Another 2,779 deaths occurred in the vehicles running the red lights, and about 1.5 million people were injured.

A study released Thursday by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows the rate of red light deaths is increasing three times faster than deaths in all other types of highway accidents.

Arizona, Nevada, Michigan and Texas are the most dangerous states, the study found.

Among cities, three of the four most dangerous ones are in Arizona: Phoenix, Mesa, and Tucson. All have red light fatality rates more han three times the national average, as does Memphis.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, the safest cities: New York, Oklahoma City, Pittsburgh, and Columbus, Ohio.

Watch an intersection long enough and you're bound to see some driver zipping through a stoplight. Most of the time the red light runner is not caught and no one is hurt. But too often the violation ends tragically.

"There are about 800 deaths a year due to deliberate running of red lights," said Brian O'Neill of the institute. "And most of those deaths or more than half of those deaths are not the people running the red lights. They're the pedestrians or people in other vehicles that are struck by red-light runners."

"Red light running is more than just a form of aggressive driving. People are dying and getting hurt needlessly because of it," said Ed Rust Jr., chairman of the institute and chief executive of State Farm Insurance, in a written statement.

Enforcement makes a difference. More than 40 cities, including Alexandria, Va., have installed cameras to nab red light runners. The cameras snap pictures of the license plate of the violator. Tickets are then mailed to the offender. The result: Violations in camera-enforcement zones have dropped about 40 percent.

O'Neill defended the use of cameras.

"We think that the safety of the innocent motorist, the innocent pedestrian, the people being killed and injured by red light runners is much more important than any privacy concerns," he explained.

The small town of Vienna, Va. has gone one step further, using video cameras. The computerized system not only captures pictures of the violator, it also provides a safety barrier by freezing all of the intersection's lights on red so as to prevent collisions.

But police warn the risk will never be totally eliminated as long as drivers are willing to put themselves, and you, in harm's way.

As for privacy concerns, Barry Steinhardt of the American Civil Liberties Union says the ACLU has not opposed cameras for the specific use of enforcing traffic violations.

"We are concerned about 'mission creep,' that these cameras will be used for other purposes, and it's classically true that surveillance techniques created for one purpose are rarely restricted to that purpose," said Steinhardt.

©2000 CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report