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Report ranks Las Vegas fourth in red-light running cities

It happens every day across the Las Vegas Valley: Drivers running red lights.

The National Coalition for Safer Roads' Top 10 list of Red-Light Running Cities ranked Las Vegas as No. 4, behind Houston, Phoenix and Los Angeles. The list ranked cities with the highest number of red-light running fatalities between 2004 and 2013.

Saying the light changed too quickly from yellow to red is no excuse. The city of Las Vegas reports that the length of time for the yellow change interval light varies slightly throughout Southern Nevada, depending on the speed of the road. But the most common length of time used is about 4 seconds. Sit there and count off 4 seconds — a thousand one, a thousand two, a thousand three — and, yes, that's plenty of time to notice the light is about to turn red.

The red time also varies and is based on the width of the intersection and speed of the roadway and whether the signal indication is for a left turn or through movement.

Metropolitan Police Department Public Information Officer Jesse Roybal said red-light running is a concern for officers.

"It's a problem just like any problem we look into, like distracted driving or speeding," he said. "We look at all those issues. With red-light running… it's a 'he said, she said' kind of thing. Is it an issue? Sure it is. Any time you break a law as significant as stopping and do the opposite, it's definitely a concern of ours."

Roybal said there were no statistics available on red-light runners as Metro is switching to a new software system.

Metro Traffic Lt. Leonard Marshall noted that it was hard to keep statistics on those who run red lights because they're only reported if they hit something.

"The report's not surprising," he said of the National Coalition for Safer Roads' list. "We've identified that stopping on red is a significant causal factor for (accidents), so that's why you see our Stop On Red campaign. If you run a red light, you're probably going to run into somebody. And if it's out of the blue, then it's probably going to be an angle collision, and those can be deadly."

The police report below is not unheard of in Las Vegas. It reads:

"On August 25, 2015, at approximately 11:38 p.m., a critical injury, hit and run traffic collision occurred in the intersection of Tropicana Avenue and Dean Martin Drive. Evidence at the scene and witness statements indicate a 2007 Suzuki GS500 motorcycle was traveling northbound on Dean Martin Drive, proceeding through the intersection of Tropicana Avenue with a green traffic light. A 2006 Nissan Altima was traveling westbound on Tropicana Avenue, approaching Dean Martin Drive and a red traffic light. The Nissan failed to stop at the red light and collided into the right side of the motorcycle. The Nissan drove away from the collision scene, failing to stop, render aid or notify police. The Suzuki operator was transported to UMC Trauma Center and admitted with critical injuries."

Deciding to speed up and ignore a red light can not only cause an accident; it can hurt your pocketbook. Of the 41 million tickets handed out across the country annually, according to the National Motorists Association, the average cost of a speeding ticket is $150. The average at which your insurance increases over three years because of one speeding ticket is $900, it notes.

Though the report was not broken down to specify red-light running, after Florida, Nevada ranks second in the nation as the most-ticketed state (tied with Georgia).

Because red light cameras are prohibited by law in Nevada — a fact that only the Nevada Legislature can reverse — they cannot be installed to curb red light running. But the city has initiated measures to lessen driver frustration.

Las Vegas Traffic Engineer Mike Janssen noted that the biggest preventative measure is improving the capacity of an intersection so that drivers don't have to sit through two lights.

"Some examples would include where we add dual left turn lanes, exclusive right turn lanes, and bus turnouts," he said, responding via email. "All of these features increase the capacity of an intersection. When an intersection is 'over capacity,' that is where you will see a higher incidence of red light running."

Some intersections where the city increased the capacity include Sahara Avenue and Decatur Boulevard; Sahara and Fort Apache Road; Charleston Boulevard and Fort Apache; Alta Drive and Rampart Boulevard; and Cheyenne Avenue and Rampart. Another project, planned to start later this year, will address the Durango Drive and Charleston intersection.

Another proactive approach is coordinating traffic signals better to keep traffic moving. Fiber optic cable has been installed on many corridors, such as Cheyenne between the 215 Beltway and Tenaya Way, Charleston between Durango and the 215 and the entire stretch of Sahara.

"By better coordinating the traffic signals on a corridor, we reduce the need for stopping large groupings of traffic on any given corridor, and that helps reduce the potential for red light running," Janssen said. "Some traffic signals have small 'red light running signal indications' attached that LVMPD motorcycle officers use to better determine when a motorist runs a red light and make enforcement easier."

Other changes include using smaller cycle lengths during off-peak hours — the shorter cycle lengths can help reduce the potential for red-light running.

But when the majority of drivers hit the road at the same time ...

"During busy hours of the day, we have no choice but to use larger cycle lengths to accommodate more frequent pedestrian phases and larger volumes of traffic," Janssen said.

Peter T. Savolainen, associate professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering at Iowa State University, said there's "been research wherein vehicles communicate with the traffic signal infrastructure as they approach the intersection. In theory, these systems could alert drivers of an impending change to the traffic signal or the signal could adapt and remain green for a slightly longer time period. Similarly, a vehicle running a red light could alert a vehicle on the cross street where the signal is transitioning to green. These types of technologies are intermediate steps to fully automated vehicles, which are still quite far away. In any case, there is very strong potential for improving traffic safety though these types of technologies."

If red-light running cameras are illegal in Nevada, why do some intersections have cameras? They are used only for detecting traffic so that the length of a signal phase is reflective of the traffic demand. Some are "incident management" cameras used by the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada's Freeway and Arterial System of Transportation (FAST).

"I'd like to point out that the study is from an organization that is probably trying to get us to buy red light cameras, so they have have an agenda," Marshall said. "Their agenda is to see more red light cameras, which is not a bad thing. We tried to get permission from the state to get red light cameras. Not only did the Legislature not like it, they made it harder for us to get them in the future. So, the state Legislature is not in favor of automatic citations without a cop being a part of it."

— To reach Summerlin Area View reporter Jan Hogan, email jhogan@viewnews.com or call 702-387-2949.

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