Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini is "fightin' mad."
Mounting frustration over freeway and downtown construction has resulted in more drivers running red lights and causing crashes, Corradini said, and the time has come to crack down.At a press conference on the corner of 700 E. and 400 North Wednesday, Corradini announced her recommendations for stiffer penalties for people who run red lights: increased fines, up from the current $57 fine; and increased license penalty points, from 50 to 60 per violation.
Though the most recent data on crashes caused by red light violations is a year and a half old, people need only take a look around them the next time they near an intersection for proof that the problem has become more serious, Corradini said.
"It has gotten so bad, and it makes me so angry. I personally see it every day. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't see someone running a red light and endangering themselves and others."
Corradini spoke passionately, from personal experience. Ten years ago, her own daughter was struck by someone who ran a red light. Fortunately, she was wearing her seat belt, and was not seriously injured. But Corradini has been furious about the problem ever since; and when the number of accidents began to increase, she jumped at the chance to do something about it.
Salt Lake City Prosecutor Cheryl Luke voiced her support for Corradini's proposal.
"We are taking the Mayor's initiative directly to the courts," Luke said. "We want the message to be driven home to drivers, that red means stop and yellow means prepare to stop. That's the only safe way to drive."
Craig Allred, director of the Utah State Department of Highway Safety, said the problem has been gradually increasing during the last five years. But, it has escalated dramatically since construction on I-15 and light rail downtown began.
"It's a form of road rage, and it has been getting worse," Allred said.
People are more apt to try to "squirt by" on yellow left-hand turn signals than they have been in the past, he said. They're also more likely to try to anticipate lights as they change colors. Both of those factors, along with excessive speed, lead to more accidents.
In addition to the increased number of accidents, what makes the situation worse is that the types of crashes caused by running red lights tend to result in more serious personal injury than other crashes, Allred said. Statistics show that of the 2,106 crashes caused by disregarding traffic signals in 1996 (the most current data available), over half resulted in injuries.
A common crash is a "T-bone," where one car strikes another squarely on the side. Cars are less protected along the side panel, Allred said, and most are not prepared to handle side-impact crashes.
Though the technology is improving with the addition of side-impact air bags and stronger side panels in many cars, Allred said seat belts and proper safety restraints for children are still the best protection against serious in-jury.
Immediately following the press conference, officers on motorcycles began to step up enforcement of red light violations. It took less than two minutes to make the first stop.