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Red light, wrong move, grim result

At intersections, the best idea is to stop for an amber light; the worst is to speed up

By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist July 29, 2011

There are several reasons that motivate drivers to proceed through an intersection while the streetlight has turned solid red, none of which make good sense.

Drivers who are late for an appointment often go through an intersection in an inappropriate fashion. Despite the fact that intersections are the most dangerous places for the occurrence of a fatal crash, some drivers continually violate not only the law but also simple logic, when they run a red light.

These drivers make a deliberate decision to go through an intersection because they think they can make it. Sadly, many do not and it is the innocent who pay a huge price for the poor judgement and illegal actions of such motorists. There are several factors that inadvertently contribute to a driver choosing to take a chance by going through an intersection on a solid red streetlight.

The length of the amber light is one of them. A long amber light cycle of four to five seconds actually encourages poor behaviour at intersections. Drivers often take liberties when they know they can, or think they can, make it through the intersection on an amber light cycle. Many drivers speed up on an amber light in order to try and make it through the intersection prior to the red light cycle change. This is both dangerous and foolish, from a crash and enforcement perspective. If drivers in the intersecting cross traffic are timing the streetlight change, it is very likely that a T-bone type crash will result. Police are much more likely to ticket drivers who over commit by increasing speed through the intersection. The very action of increasing speed in this situation proves that the offending driver probably was far enough back from the intersection to execute a safe stop.

There are many cases where the driver did not see the streetlight change from a solid green to amber and subsequently to a solid red.

The glare of the sun or a large vehicle ahead hiding the streetlight will often cause a crash at an intersection.

Drivers are often surprised by the sudden change from a green solid streetlight to an amber solid light. They must make a quick decision for which they are ill prepared. Many drivers do not know that a solid amber streetlight means STOP.

There are two exceptions to this rule. If the vehicle is in the intersection or so close to the intersection as to be unable to safely stop, it is best to proceed through an unobstructed intersection. Very few drivers actually take a cue from the flashing symbols which regulate pedestrian crossings at intersections. There is a strong likelihood that vehicle drivers will make it through the intersection if the white stick man walking sign is displayed for pedestrian right-of-way.

When the red hand is displayed at a pedestrian crossing, it means the traffic streetlight has a good probability of changing to amber. Most professional drivers pay more attention to the pedestrian control flashing warning lights, than to the streetlights themselves, upon approaching an intersection. In this way they are able to predict the changing cycle of the streetlights.

Professional drivers will often wait until another driver pulls out at a multi-lane intersection in order to set up a blocker or interference move at a crossroad. In this way, they never take first impact in a T-bone crash. They never pass or change lanes in an intersection. If the driver beside them slows or stops, they do the same in order to maintain position.

High-speed crashes at intersections account for 55 per cent of fatal crashes or crashes requiring hospitalization. Red light runners are to be feared by all of us.

Steve Wallace is a member of the College of Teachers and the owner of Joan Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and the Interior of B.C.

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