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Red Light Running Accidents: What You Need to Know

Traffic lights over blue sky. Red light
By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

There are scary car accident statistics and then there are scary car accident statistics. This is the latter. A new study from AAA's Foundation for Traffic Safety, 939 people were killed in red light running crashes in 2017, representing a 28 percent increase since 2012 and a 10-year high in the data.

A survey of drivers as part of the study also showed that 85 percent of drivers thought running a red light was very dangerous, but almost a third say they had done it within the past month. "More than 40 percent said they didn't think police would stop them," according to AAA. "Nevertheless, it's against the law and if a driver is involved in a deadly crash, it could send them to jail."

Running a red light is a criminal offense (as is vehicular manslaughter). But breaking the law while behind the wheel could have civil lawsuit implications as well, thanks to a legal concept known as negligence per se. Negligence is a central factor in any car accident injury case, and a driver who violates traffic laws by running a red light before a crash is often considered negligent per se, because the law is intended to promote safety and avoid the kind of injuries that occurred.

In many jurisdictions, proof that the defendant violated a statute, regulation, or ordinance enacted to protect against the harm that resulted to the plaintiff means that the defendant's negligence is conclusively established. In other jurisdictions, a defendant's violation of a statute is merely evidence that the defendant might have acted negligently. So, evidence that someone ran a red light could go towards proving negligence and fault in a car crash, or it could decide the matter entirely.

Stopping an Accident

Demonstrating fault in any car accident claim can be tricky. But having evidence that one party ran a red light certainly helps. "Drivers who decide to run a red light when they could have stopped safely are making a reckless choice which puts other road users in danger," according to executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety Dr. David Yang.

AAA also has some recommends drivers to avoid running red lights and causing accidents:

  • Prepare to stop: Lift your foot off the accelerator and “cover the brake” when preparing to enter any intersection by positioning your right foot just above the brake pedal, without touching it.
  • Use good judgment: Monitor “stale” green lights, those that have been green a long time as you’ve approached the intersection. They are more likely to turn yellow as you arrive at the intersection.
  • Tap the brake: Tap your brakes a couple of times before fully applying them to slow down. This will catch the attention of drivers who may be inattentive or distracted behind you.
  • Drive defensively: Before you enter an intersection after the light has turned green for you, take a second after the light changes and look both ways before proceeding.

If you've been involved in a crash caused by someone running a red light, talk an experienced car accident attorney about your legal options.

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