D.C. area drivers want more cameras to crack down on red light runners


Speed cameras capture motorists on Interstate 395 near Second Street NW in Washington. Studies on the effectiveness of cameras have had different results, with some showing big reductions in crashes and others showing only minimal improvements in safety. (Daniel Britt/THE WASHINGTON POST)
Columnist July 16, 2014

Readers who saw last week’s letter about “rude” behavior by a Capital Beltway driver reminded me that bad driving isn’t just a highway thing.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region. View Archive

The characterization of Washington-area drivers being “rude” is an understatement. I frequently use the term “lawless.”

I generally observe motorists driving through red (not amber) lights just about every day. Recently, I had a Mercedes drive past me on Reston Avenue and drive right through a red light. I observed that same car then drive right through the red light at the next intersection.

We will have this problem until the lawless have a painful disincentive. I recognize that Washington-area traffic is clogged, our roads are antiques and drivers don’t desire to wait three minutes for the next green light sequence, but the lawful should not be penalized by the lawless.

I recommend that every traffic light be equipped with a camera, and any vehicle that drives through a red light should be photographed. The owner of that vehicle should be fined $100 for the first offense, $200 for the second offense, $300 for the third offense, and so on. If the offenses are expensive enough, then perhaps, just perhaps, this lawless behavior will be reduced, and our intersections will become safer.

David Elmore, Great Falls

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I very much appreciated your column on rude drivers who endanger others with their selfish or clueless behavior behind the wheel.

An equally alarming phenomenon that needs to be addressed is the number of drivers who run red lights. When I moved here 16 years ago, I would notice someone run a red light perhaps once a week. Now I see it multiple times whenever I get on the road.

If a driver waiting to turn left can’t get through before the light turns red, he simply tailgates the car in front, seemingly thinking he can hide behind it. Apparently these drivers feel it is their right to go because they have already waited for one or possibly two cycles of the light.

It’s dangerous for our society if traffic lights lose their meaning and become merely suggestions rather than rules.

There has been much debate about the value and purpose of red-light cameras. Some would complain that they are just a revenue-builder and others a violation of privacy, but the fact is that they are an important deterrent in preventing accidents.

Two days before Christmas near the Columbia Mall, my 18-year old niece was sideswiped by a driver barreling through an intersection several seconds after her light turned red. If there were red-light cameras at 50 percent of the intersections, how many drivers would choose to take that chance?

Heather Brown, Silver Spring

DG: Red-light running is a form of aggressive driving, and it’s done at the most dangerous place a driver visits each day: an intersection.

Camera enforcement systems are becoming more sophisticated in targeting bad behavior at intersections. Newer versions can nail a driver for making a right on red without stopping. I wish they could capture the drivers who make a right on red while looking only for other cars and not for pedestrians in the crosswalk ahead.

Much as I support the use of red-light cameras, I don’t believe we’ll ever see them at every intersection, or even half of them. A program with that kind of reach would be too elaborate and expensive for any jurisdiction to administer.

Also, studies on the effectiveness of cameras have had different results, with some showing big reductions in crashes and others showing only minimal improvements in safety.

Critics of cameras will point out that they simply alter the type of crash that occurs at an intersection.

They may reduce the number of side impacts — T-bone crashes — at high speeds in the middle of intersections while increasing the number of rear-end crashes at the edges of the intersections. (Supposedly, the lead driver — fearing the camera ticket — slams on the brakes and the following driver crashes into the first car. Why the following driver wasn’t leaving a safe space between the cars is a mystery to me.)

We should encourage our municipalities to focus on intersections with high volumes of traffic, many pedestrian crossings and histories of crashes.

That will give us the most safety benefit from the use of cameras.

But any real traffic safety program doesn’t stop with the installation of cameras. It examines other factors that lead people to run lights, such as the overall traffic congestion in the area and the poor timing of some traffic signals.

This is an acknowledgment of human frailty, not a permission slip for lawbreakers.

Drivers sometimes tell me they were forced by circumstances beyond their control to violate the red-light law. What choice did they have when faced with a poorly timed signal or a congested intersection?

I don’t buy this “They made me a criminal” argument. It’s the driver’s choice to endanger other travelers, and that choice must not be accepted.

Continue reading
Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Local