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    Source: "Topeka News" - The Kansas City Star (03/21/2001)

    TRAFFIC OFFICIALS ARE SEEING RED OVER BLACKOUTS - Battery backups are planned by several cities to aid confused drivers.
    Source: The Orange County Register (03/21/2001)


    Toby Tran approached an Aliso Viejo intersection and wasn't sure what to do.

    Ahead of him, the traffic signal was dark, a casualty of the rolling blackouts that struck Orange County on Monday and Tuesday.

    So Tran kept driving, smacking into an oncoming car at the corner of Aliso Creek and Enterprise.

    "It just happened," a shaken Tran, 29, said from his Aliso Viejo home. "I tried to stop and I couldn't. There was no light. Nothing."

    Tran's accident Monday afternoon, and several others like it, underscore one of the most significant dangers looming in the threat of future blackouts.

    Traffic backs up Tuesday at Crown Valley Parkway at Forbes Road in Laguna Niguel as drivers had to navigate their own way
    Photo: Jebb Harris / The Register

    Traffic signals that fade to black when the power goes out, instead of converting to flashing red, make wrecks far more likely because drivers become confused and frustrated, traffic engineers and experts said Tuesday.

    "I didn't know what to do," said Tran, who was on his way to a high school jogging track. "Luckily I'm alive, but I'm very scared."

    On Day 2 of Southern California's power outages, worried city officials across Orange County hunted for ways to respond to paralyzed intersections when state regulators pull the plug.

    "We need to be ready," said Hamid Bahadori, traffic engineer in the city of Orange. "This thing is only going to get worse in July and August."

    One popular idea: installing emergency battery-backup units at traffic signals to keep lights flashing red during blackouts. Several Orange County cities, including Irvine, Laguna Niguel and Orange, are already moving to install the devices as early as this summer.

    "In our minds, (a flashing light) is a vast improvement over a blacked-out signal," said Dave Rogers, Laguna Niguel traffic engineer. On Tuesday night, his city was expected to approve the purchase of the battery packs for all 74 of its traffic signals.

    "Timing, in this case, seems to be everything," Rogers said. "A lot of cities had contemplated it. We just took it that extra step."

    John Thai, an Anaheim traffic engineer, cautioned that cities need to do adequate research and testing before they launch into such projects.

    "There is nothing that is foolproof," Thai said. "All this is new territory."

    Some cities are also considering rolling out temporary stop signs and sending police officers to more intersections.

    Although the state's vehicle code requires motorists to treat dead traffic signals like a four-way stop, motorists often blow through the intersections, police said.

    "It's dangerous," said Tustin police Lt. Mike Shanahan, after several near-wrecks in his city during Monday's outages. "People are not very good at reacting to changes in their conditions.

    "Flashing red is something that catches your eye. It's a warning that something is amiss, but the absence of all lights is worse."

    Source: "News Release" - Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (07/13/2000)

    ARLINGTON, VA -- Each year more than 800 people die and an estimated 200,000-plus are injured in crashes that involve red light running. Total deaths in such crashes numbered almost 6,000 during 1992-98. More than half of these deaths were pedestrians and occupants in other vehicles who were hit by the red light runners. Another 2,779 deaths occurred in the vehicles running the red lights. During the same time period (1992-98), about 1,500,000 people were injured in such crashes.

    "This traffic safety problem deserves more attention than it has received," says Ed Rust Jr., chairman of the Institute and CEO of State Farm. "Red light running is more than just a form of aggressive driving. People are dying and getting hurt needlessly because of it."

    Camera enforcement: Nationwide, fatal crashes at traffic signals increased 18 percent during 1992-98, more than three times the rate of increase for all other fatal crashes during the same time. Because red light running is a big part of the problem, the Institute has been studying the effectiveness of red light camera programs. The cameras, which are being used to enforce traffic laws in about 40 U.S. communities, photograph vehicles whose drivers deliberately run red lights. Violators then are ticketed by mail. Such programs reduce red light running by about 40 percent, Institute research has found.

    Cameras have been used with success outside the United States, but in some U.S. jurisdictions there has been opposition to cameras because of perceived privacy concerns. "This should be a nonissue," Institute president Brian O'Neill says. "Red light runners have no right to jeopardize others and then hide their violations behind privacy claims. Public officials should be concerned with protecting innocent people from being killed or injured by red light runners rather than protecting the privacy of people who break the law."

    Geographic variation: Arizona has a far higher rate of fatal red light running crashes than other states and, in response, has begun camera enforcement in several cities. Three of the four cities with the highest rates of fatal red light running crashes are in Arizona. Rates in Nevada, Michigan, Texas, Alabama, and New Mexico also are high.

    laws passed | enforcement without state laws | legislation introduced (2000)

    CITIES complete list>
    with highest death rates in red light running crashes per 100,000 people, 1992-98
    STATES complete list>
    with highest death rates in red light running crashes per 100,000 people, 1992-98
      Population Deaths Rate per
    Phoenix, AZ 1,125,599 122 10.8
    Memphis, TN 614,067 49 8.0
    Mesa, AZ 333,756 26 7.8
    Tucson, AZ 445,840 34 7.6
    St. Petersburg, FL 237,480 18 7.6
    Birmingham, AL 256,386 18 7.0
    Dallas, TX 1,047,816 73 7.0
    Albuquerque, NM 412,625 28 6.8
    Louisville, KY 260,572 17 6.5
    Detroit, MI 998,523 65 6.5
    NOTE: cities with population more than 200,000
      Population Deaths Rate per
    Arizona 4,280,998 305 7.1
    Nevada 1,529,841 59 3.9
    Michigan 9,655,540 355 3.7
    Texas 18,677,046 663 3.5
    Alabama 4,255,686 143 3.4
    New Mexico 1,670,580 56 3.4
    Florida 14,197,723 434 3.1
    California 31,645,023 956 3.0
    Delaware 717,499 21 2.9


    The Accident Location and Analysis System (ALAS) contains the location and characteristics of all recorded crashes in Iowa's recent history. The research team queried ALAS for crashes with a "ran traffic signal" notation for the years 1996-1998

    A ran-traffic-signal notation on a crash report generally requires a witness at the scene or the admission of guilt by the party involved in the collision. Therefore, representing red light running crashes only through ran-traffic-signal noted reports probably underestimates the extent of red light running effects at a given intersection; the data are thus considered "true but underestimated."

    The table below presents the total number of fatalities, personal injuries and property damage only (PDO) due to ran-traffic-signal crashes for each of the study jurisdictions as well as for the entire state of Iowa. Using nationally accepted cost values for fatalities and injuries, the table also includes total dollar losses in each jurisdiction and the entire state.

    A more extensive review of ALAS records has revealed that ran-traffic-signal crashes have occurred in most Iowa cities over the past several years of record, with a quite significant incidence noted in several larger communities.

    Summary of Costs Linked to Ran-Traffic-Signal Crashes (1996 - 1998)

    Jurisdiction Facilities Injuries* PDO** Total Crashes Total Costs
    Bettendorf 0 86 68 129 $1,691,487
    Davenport 1 583 279 637 $11,752,603
    Dubuque 0 202 65 190 $3,115,509
    Fort Dodge 0 84 62 122 $1,198,732
    Iowa City 0 150 125 235 $2,364,738
    Sioux City 1 322 146 335 $5,369,499
    West Des Moines 0 126 70 154 $1,196,000
    State of Iowa 12 5,881 3,435 7,038 $110,428,000

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    Kansas State University
    September 9, 2009