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With around 3.5 million residents and rapidly growing, the Seattle metro area is notorious for its congested and often hectic commutes. With so many drivers, cyclists and pedestrians sharing the roadways, even a momentary mistake may lead to fatal results.

Intersections can be especially dangerous, particularly when drivers are impatient, distracted or impaired. Unfortunately, despite the potentially deadly risks, U.S. motorists continue to run red lights. In a recent study, the American Automobile Association found that incidences of red-light fatalities increased by 28% between 2012 and 2017, putting the figure at a 10-year high.

Distracted drivers

Over the past decade, technology has fundamentally changed American habits in many ways, and driving is no exception. While traffic density has continued to increase across the country, the AAA study also points toward a strong connection between red-light deaths and the use of mobile phones and onboard infotainment systems.

Between 2009 and 2017 alone, red-light fatalities increased by 31%. AAA’s recent Traffic Safety Culture Index found that even though 79.8% of American motorists consider talking on a hand-held phone while driving very or extremely dangerous, over half reported doing so within the last 30 days.

Conflicting behaviors

AAA’s Traffic Safety Culture Index also underscores an apparent contradiction between American attitudes and behaviors when it comes to the risk involved in red-light running. While 85% of drivers in the U.S. consider the behavior very dangerous, one in three admitted to running a red light within the past 30 days — even if they could have safely avoided doing so.

Changes to Seattle traffic

The Seattle area itself saw a significant increase in severe traffic accidents in 2019, leading the city to pursue a suite of safety measures that include lowering speed limits, installing safety-enhanced traffic signals and eventually doubling the number of red-light cameras. According to a report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, large cities that install enforcement cameras may reduce red-light fatalities by 21% and decrease all types of deadly collisions at signaled intersections by 14%.