Traffic light cameras, please

After New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s car was smashed by a van running a red light at high enough speed that it went airborne during the collision (and injuring the driver’s father so severely he may die), Massachusetts is abuzz about cars driving through red lights.

In line with my perceptions, data suggest our collective driving habits are getting worse:

In southeastern Massachusetts, the number of crashes caused by a driver running a red light has more than doubled in an alarmingly short time. …nearly 1,300 such collisions occurred from 2006 to 2008. During the three-year period ending in 2004, the number barely topped 600.

People, on the whole, just seem ruder, more hurried, and more distracted by non-driving tasks.

While I wish we could do more about speeding, illegal parking, people swinging their car doors into other cars, cutting other people off, etc., there is one danger that is both especially dangerous and especially easy to detect and punish: red light running.

The unusual thing about Tom Brady’s crash is that someone in the car running the red light was severely injured while the occupant of the innocent car was unharmed, partly because Brady was wearing his seatbelt and partly because Brady’s car was hit at a lucky angle. Far too often, the innocent car with the green light is struck broadside by the lawbreaker accelerating through a red light, causing the offending car’s engine to drive right through the driver’s door, crushing the innocent driver.

I don’t like Big Brother, but the deaths of so many innocents means it’s absolutely time for camera-equipped traffic lights that issue tickets to drivers running red lights:

According to the Insurance Institute, red-light runners caught on camera are more than three times as likely to have multiple speeding convictions than drivers who had the chance to run a red but chose not to. So the well-meaning “dilemma-zone” driver has little to fear from a red-light camera.

Cameras target only the most blatant commission of a common traffic violation that can have deadly consequences, not just for the violator but for innocent drivers in other vehicles.

Drivers who repeatedly run red lights should lose their licenses for a while. Those who continue offending after re-earning their licenses should be banned from driving.

Posted by James on Wednesday, September 15, 2010