Deaths at red lights have surged since 2012, AAA study finds

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NEW YORK (CBS/WNCN) — Distracted driving is blamed for driving up deaths at red lights to a 10-year high. Technology to curb the problem is proving to be controversial.

A new study from AAA finds red light deaths have surged, up 28% since 2012. Nearly 940 people were killed in red light crashes in 2017.

“The problem is drivers are distracted, they’re impatient and they’re reckless,” said AAA spokesman Doug Shupe.

Research shows red light cameras, which catch drivers in the act and mail them a ticket, cut fatal crashes by 14% and red light running by 21%. But outraged drivers call it policing for profit.

Kelly Canon lead the charge in Texas to ban red light cameras this summer, the eighth state to do so. “I call it government sanctioned extortion,” Canon said.

New York City was first to use red light cameras and is now increasing its speed cameras tenfold to more than 2,000 in two years. Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg disagrees with the idea that cameras are speed traps.

“We’re thoughtful and data driven about where we put the cameras. We’re not trying to have a game of gotcha,” Trottenberg said.

At least 141 other communities in 15 states also use speed cameras. According to the New York City Department of Transportation, they’ve cut speeding incidents by more than 60% and crashes by 15%.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found the cameras do tend to change driver behavior, cutting excessive speeding by about 80%. New York City has found that 80% of the people who get a $50 camera ticket, never get another one.

According to the study, there were 33 fatalities in North Carolina caused by red light-running crashes in 2017 and a total of 254 since 2008 — twice the total deaths in South Carolina in the same period, which stands at 127 since 2008.

According to AAA, “28% of crash deaths occur at signalized intersections that are the result of a driver running through a red light.” Forty-six percent of those killed in red light-running crashes were passengers or people in other vehicles. Around 5% were pedestrians or cyclists and just over 35% of those killed were the drivers who actually ran the red light.

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. WNCN contributed to this report.

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