While most cities choose to take the easy way out and install red-light ticket cameras to profit from this problem (without solving it), there are several proven ways for communities to stop red-light running at their intersections.
1) Increase the yellow-light time
This is an easy way to reduce red-light violations. It has been effective from Virginia to California in preventing accidents and saving lives.
- A study by researchers at the Texas Transportation Institute illustrates the positive safety impact of even a modestly longer yellow light.
- The Virginia Department of Transportation noted a significant decrease in violations at an intersection in Fairfax County when the yellow light was lengthened by 1.5 seconds.
- Critics of longer yellow lights claim there is no long-term benefit because the public will grow accustomed to the longer lights, but research shows this is not the case.
2) Add an all-red clearance interval
A yellow light allows drivers who cannot safely stop to pass through the intersection before the light turns red. Occasionally, even safe and attentive drivers may misjudge the time it takes to make it completely through an intersection.
Adding an all-red clearance interval (a brief period where the lights in all directions are red) after the yellow-light phase reduces unnecessary accidents. AAA of Michigan and the city of Detroit partnered to make intersections safer and they found an all-red clearance interval to be effective.
3) Make traffic lights more visible
There are a number of reasons motorists might have difficulty seeing traffic lights at intersections. Making traffic lights more visible decreases red-light violations and intersection accidents. Here are three simple things that can be done to help all motorists see traffic lights better:
- Make the lights bigger. With AAA of Michigan’s help, Detroit installed several new lights that were 50 percent larger. This small change helped to decrease both accidents and injuries at problem intersections.
- Add metal backers to lights. This is especially important for lights that face either east or west and can be easily affected by glare from the sun during certain parts of the day.
- Remove any other obstructions. If an intersection has above average red-light violations or accidents, transportation officials should make sure that no signs, trees, transit stops, or buildings obstruct motorists’ view of the traffic lights.
4) Improve intersections for motorists
Anything about an intersection that confuses or frustrates motorists increases red-light violations. Communities can do all of the following to make intersections safer:
- Repaint lane markings at intersections, especially turn lane markings. This alone had a major impact in the Detroit trial project mentioned above.
- Improve signage. Signs should clearly indicate that a signal is ahead and which lane(s), if any, are for turns only.
- Add traffic lights at certain intersections, especially those that rely on only one light suspended in the air to direct all traffic.
- Build new turn lanes, especially on roads where development has added a significant amount of new traffic volume.
- Provide advance warning lights at high-speed intersections to notify motorists of pending light changes.
5) Retime Traffic Signals
Engineers can adjust the timing of traffic lights to reduce the number of red lights a driver encounters. This process of signal optimization reduces congestion, travel time, gas consumption, and driver frustration. It also helps to reduce red-light violations.
An informational report from the Institute for Transportation Engineers concluded that the process has a benefit to cost ratio of 40:1. Another study in Oakland County, Michigan showed that retiming the traffic signals had a benefit-cost ratio of 175:1 and 55:1 respectively for each of the two phases of the project.