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Ralph Doty: When will drivers learn the basic colors of green, yellow and red?

In the late 1970s, a friend and professional colleague of mine was vacationing with his family by automobile. Another driver, apparently in a hurry, sped through a traffic signal that had already turned red and struck my friend's car on the drive...

In the late 1970s, a friend and professional colleague of mine was vacationing with his family by automobile. Another driver, apparently in a hurry, sped through a traffic signal that had already turned red and struck my friend's car on the driver's side as he entered the intersection. Bruce was instantly killed; his wife and children survived the crash.

According to the Web site www.stopredlightrunning.com , in 2002 -- the last full year for which figures are available -- as many as 207,000 crashes, 178,000 injuries and 921 fatalities were attributed to red light running. This reckless practice costs the nation close to $14 billion annually.

A few months before he retired, Duluth police chief Roger Waller told KDAL news that more than 120 intersection crashes in the city in 2005 were "probably caused" by drivers who ran red lights. Waller acknowledged that a firm figure was difficult, because many red light runners do not readily admit they are to blame for a crash.

A law-enforcement device being increasingly used across the country involves installing cameras at intersections to nab drivers who endanger the lives of others. Highly sophisticated cameras are installed at high-volume, dangerous intersections. The cameras are synchronized with traffic signals and only vehicles that pass over a sensor installed in the pavement after the light turns red are recorded on a camera. After examining the video tapes, law enforcement officers send citations through the mail.

The evidence is overwhelming that intersection cameras cut down on the number of crashes. The stopredlightrunning Web site cites the experience of Washington, D.C., where intersection fatalities were reduced from 16 to only two in the first two years of synchronized cameras. Fatalities were reduced by 44 percent in Fairfax, Va.; 22 percent in Oxnard, Calif. and 34 percent in New York City.

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According to a study by Old Dominion University, red light violations skyrocketed after Virginia Beach's red-light-running law was allowed to expire in 2005.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says the introduction of red light cameras at certain dangerous intersections, along with lengthening the yellow-light phase, has "virtually eliminated red light running violations" at many intersections.

States where camera usage is most popular are California, Maryland and North Carolina. The Web site noted last year that only one Minnesota city was using the cameras -- Minneapolis. And now that's off the list because, in April, the Minnesota Supreme Court halted the use of cameras to stop red light running. In a unanimous opinion, the court said Minneapolis' photo ticket program offered the accused drivers fewer due process protections than available to motorists who were ticketed the conventional way: by an officer.

Furthermore, the court also noted the "rebuttal presumption" doctrine which says that someone is innocent until proven guilty. The court said that Minneapolis presumed "that the owner was the driver [of the violating car]" and therefore "eliminates the presumption of innocence and shifts the burden of proof from the required rules of criminal procedure."

So, now, the carnage at Minneapolis' dangerous street intersections has resumed because police officers can't be at every intersection to make sure drivers learned the basic colors in school: red, yellow and green.

It is time for Minnesota lawmakers to act in the next legislative session and amend current law so it can pass muster the next time someone takes the issue to the Supreme Court. Maybe your life will depend on it.

*****

More about careless drivers. During road construction work this summer on I-35 near 21st Avenue West, the signs could not have been clearer: Reduce your speed because workers are in the area.

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I noticed that occasionally Duluth police cars or Minnesota State Patrol cars were in the area and their presence was enough to slow down the speeders. But when law enforcement officers weren't around to remind drivers to cool their jets, being a road construction worker was one of the most dangerous jobs in Minnesota.

Many imaginative techniques are being used to slow down speeding drivers, and one of the best comes from the Leesburg, Fla. police department. Police officers wear construction vests and hard hats usually worn by highway construction workers and then turn on their laser speed detectors. They nab hundreds of speeders who don't realize, until it's too late, that those road workers are actually law enforcement officers disguised as construction employees.

Maybe that's a technique that should be used in Minnesota. It's certainly worth a try.

Ralph Doty can be contacted at rdoty71963@aol.com .

News to Use

Budgeteer columnist Ralph Doty's interviews on Sept. 17 on KDAL-AM (610) with mayoral candidates Don Ness and Charlie Bell are now available on the Internet. Log on to www.kdal.am and click on "Interview Archives" to hear the complete two-hour program.

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