Automotive Safety

AAA report: Traffic deaths caused by running red lights on the rise

Red light traffic signal

Drivers running red lights kill at least two people daily—an alarming trend that has safety experts urging drivers to use caution and pedestrians and cyclists to be alert. 

According to new data analysis performed by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 939 people were killed in red light running crashes on U.S. roads in 2017, a 10-year high, and a 28% increase since 2012. 

“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,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. The AAA Foundation reported that 28% of crash deaths that occur at signalized intersections are the result of a driver running through a red light. Nearly half of those killed in red light running crashes were passengers or people in other vehicles. 

Red light running by the numbers


of drivers agree running a red light is "very dangerous"


say they've run a red light in the last 30 days


of deaths at intersections with signals involve running a red


of those killed were not the driver who ran the red light

Why do drivers take this risk?

While drivers mostly agree on the dangers of running red lights, more than 40% said they didn’t think police would stop them. Nevertheless, it’s against the law and if a driver is involved in a deadly crash, it could send them to jail. While police can’t realistically be at every intersection, enforcement is the best way to get drivers to comply with any law. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that when properly implemented, red light cameras reduced the fatal red light running crash rate in large cities by 21%. The cameras reduced the rate of all types of fatal crashes at intersections with signals by 14%, the IIHS found.

“Deaths caused by red light running are on the rise,” said Jessica Cicchino, IIHS vice president for Research. “Cameras increase the odds that violators will get caught, and well-publicized camera programs discourage would-be violators from taking those odds. Camera enforcement is a proven way to reduce red light running and save lives.” 

Proper implementation of red light cameras helps to ensure drivers’ safety and trust in the systems. When using red light camera programs, local governments should incorporate best practices, such as:

  • Using the camera program as part of a comprehensive traffic safety strategy, including engineering and education.
  • Only implementing programs on roadways with a demonstrated pattern of violations or crashes.
  • Notifying drivers that cameras are being used (signage and other methods).
  • Calibrating cameras regularly.
  • Only operating cameras under the direct supervision of law enforcement personnel.
  • Evaluating the programs on a periodic basis to ensure safety benefits are being realized.

Tips for drivers to avoid running red lights

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. 

Anticipate likely reds

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 light.

Tap the brakes

Tap your brakes a couple of times before fully applying them to slow down. This will catch the attention of inattentive or distracted drivers pulling up behind you.

Drive defensively

Don't assume cross-traffic will heed the light. Take a second after the light has turned green to look both ways before proceeding into the intersection. 

Pedestrians & cyclists can also do their part to stay safe 

  • Wait: Give yourself a few seconds to make sure all cars have come to a complete stop at a red light before moving through the intersection.
  • Stay Alert: Don't take chances and don't wear headphones or look at your phone. Give your full attention to the environment around you.
  • Be Visible: Stay in well-lit areas, especially when crossing the street.
  • Make Eye Contact: Look at drivers in stopped vehicles to ensure they see you before crossing the road in front of them.
back to top icon