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Hunter Study: Nearly One in Ten New York City Motorists Runs a Red Light

Hunter Study: Nearly One in Ten New York City Motorists Runs a Red Light

Professors Peter Tuckel and William Milczarski

A Hunter College study based on more than 4,300 observations of red lights at intersections in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens shows that nearly 10 percent of New York City motorists, and 15 percent of taxi cab drivers don’t stop for red traffic lights. The survey shows no difference between the percentage of males and females who ignore the signals.

Conducted by Hunter College students and directed by Urban Planning Professor William Milczarski and Sociology Professor Peter Tuckel, the new study, “For Many New York City Motorists a Red Light Does Not Mean Stop,” is the first of its kind to examine the extent to which New York City drivers ignore red lights.

The results were based on an examination of the 3,259 motorists that approached the observed intersections when the light was red. Of these drivers, 8.7 percent ignored the signal, as did 15 percent of the cab drivers who were observed. The results come amid intense focus on pedestrian safety in New York City as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero plan.

Other key findings from the study are:

  • The incidence of red light running would be markedly higher if the analysis included vehicles that crossed the light as it changed from yellow to red.
  • In single travel lane roads, the incidence of red light running is 6.7 percent; the corresponding figure for roads with four lanes is 16.5 percent.
  • Drivers are likeliest to run a red light on Mondays.
  • Of the drivers who ignored a red signal, 4.4 percent went straight through the light; 2.6 percent turned on the red light, and 1.7 percent turned and then went through the red light. 

“That close to one out of 10 drivers observed ran a red light is disturbing,” said Professor Milczarski. “We are not talking about committing a minor traffic infraction; we’re talking about violating one of the fundamental rules of the road and endangering lives.”

“Mayor de Blasio should be praised for launching Vision Zero,” said Professor Tuckel.“ But if Vision Zero is going to succeed, then we also need the tolerance level for red light runners to be zero. The mind set and driving habits of many motorists are going to have to change.”

The findings are based on 4,379 observations of red light phases at 50 signalized intersections in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens. Each site was visited for one hour on two distinct days between April 2 and May 13 of this year. The observations were staggered across all days of the week and were all conducted in daylight, between 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Professors Milczarski and Tuckel collaborated with Hunter College students in the Introduction to Research Methods, Honors Seminar and Mapping Social Science Data courses in the Department of Sociology, and the Urban Data Analysis and Quantitative Approaches to Urban Analysis courses in the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning. Their studies in previous years have used the same methodology for data collection, focusing on a range of public policy and transportation matters, including seatbelt use and the incidence of distracted driving.

View the complete report here.

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