PEOPLE WHO don't enjoy flying in airplanes are never all that comforted by the reminder that "you're really safer in a plane than you are crossing the street downtown." Yet more than a few residents of this region can speak from hair-raising experience about the perils of playing pedestrian around this city. The most life-threatening menace on wheels here is the red-light runner, who -- after what seemed to be a low-profile existence late last year -- is back in town with a vengeance. Try to proceed on any green light or "Walk" sign at a busy intersection -- and the thrill is right there, bearing down on you at a good 30 miles an hour or more.

Pedestrians aren't the only victims, of course. Motorists who have been taught that green means "go" should do a little research at, say, 12th and K Streets NW, or along Pennsylvania Avenue near the District Building. Some of the near-collisions are whisker-close to disasters; and heaven help the prudent motorist who tries to stop in an orderly fashion for a yellow-turning-red, when he has a red-runner coming up from behind.

Statistics on the frequency of any of these dangerous incidents really don't exist, but our mail, calls and conversation all point to an apparent increase. Police and traffic officials do say that, like jaywalking, red-light running tends to become more and more an accepted practice -- until it is given enough public attention to generate a crackdown. We have focused on it in the past, and last year a regional, publicized crackdown seemed to curtail the number of complaints -- for a while. The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments even came up with a bumper sticker: "I STOP for Red Lights."

How about a renewed awareness/warning/arrest campaign by authorities in every jurisdiction in the region? Or should everyone look the other way until someone is killed?