Just about every driver has done it at least once, probably more.
You're making good time, cruising through green lights, when one suddenly turns yellow. Can you make it? Should you gun it? Go for it, you tell yourself, even as the light turns red.
Chances are, there won't be a police officer nearby to give you a ticket. But if you think it was worth running the light just to shave a few seconds off your drive time, think again, says Colleen Nordberg. She knows firsthand what can happen when a driver makes that split-second decision to push on the gas instead of the brake pedal at a red light.
On Aug. 21, 2005, Colleen, then 35, was riding her bicycle to her job at the University of Utah, when 22-year-old David Willey ran a red light at 1700 South and 2100 East.
The light was green for Colleen as she pedaled through the intersection at about 2:30 p.m. on that brilliant Sunday. Glancing to her left, she saw a white pickup truck bolting toward her, but there was no time to react. Later, her only memory of the trauma would be of her thoughts before impact: "I'm going to die right here. I'm never going to see Brian again."
Brian Nordberg was working out at the gym when the call came in. His wife was thrown 40 feet when the truck slammed into her at 35 mph, breaking her leg and fracturing her cheekbones. Colleen had lost a lot of blood and suffered severe head trauma, hitting the ground with such force that her helmet cracked.
Although she was in a touch-and-go coma for three days, her will to live pulled her through. It took months for her to walk again, and she still suffers from memory loss and anxiety three years later.
David Willey ultimately served two months in jail after authorities at the scene gave him a blood test that came back positive for marijuana.
"My whole life was turned upside down because he chose to run a red light rather than wait a few seconds for it turn green again," says Colleen. "He got off easy compared to what I've been through. I feel blessed to be alive."
She and Brian wanted to get together for a Free Lunch chat in the hope of drawing more attention to the problem of red light runners, especially since another driver seriously injured two people while text-messaging and cruising through a light last week.
National Stop on Red Week is coming up Aug. 3, "but we're hoping people will pay more attention year-round," says Brian. "In 2005, when Colleen was hit, there were 3,184 crashes in Utah related to somebody running a red light. That's about 100 a day, and that number hasn't gone down. What we need are more citations and more serious consequences. It's become an epidemic."
Red light crashes carry a high fatality rate, mainly because they're usually high-speed, side-impact "T-bone" crashes, says Colleen.
"When you're walking or on a bike like I was, you're especially vulnerable," she says. "I feel grateful today that I can't remember all the details. It was very traumatic for my family, waiting to hear whether I'd live or die."Colleen has returned to biking, but she keeps a watchful eye on red traffic lights. "People get a feeling of power from driving fast and speeding up when they see that yellow light," she says. "They need to pause and think: Is it worth somebody's life?"
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