Red light for traffic scofflaws | August 4, 2006 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - August 4, 2006

Red light for traffic scofflaws

Palo Alto police participate in 'Stop on Red' campaign

by Alexandria Rocha

As part of a national campaign to reduce accidents and injuries caused by drivers who run red lights, the Palo Alto Police Department will beef up its efforts next week to catch people who don't "stop on red" at three major intersections.

So far this year, Palo Alto police officers have written about 5,300 traffic citations -- of which more than 330 were for driving through red lights, said Palo Alto Sgt. Sandra Brown.

There have also been 24 accidents this year caused by someone running a red light.

For next week's campaign, officials have decided to focus on three of the city's busiest crossroads: Embarcadero Road and St. Francis Drive; Page Mill Road and El Camino Real; and University Avenue and Middlefield Road.

Drivers can expect patrol cars at each of those intersections throughout the day. Brown said officers will be using "rat boxes" --electrical devices that help determine if someone has run a red light.

"If you cross the limit line after the light turns red, you're going to get a ticket," Brown said. But, "no matter how much advance notice we give, people will still run red lights."

Next week's additional traffic policing in Palo Alto is part of the Traffic Safe Communities Network's annual Stop on Red Campaign, which coincides each year with the National Stop on Red Week.

In Santa Clara County, 12 other cities will also participate this year -- including Los Altos, Mountain View, San Jose and Sunnyvale. The California Highway Patrol will also be on high alert.

"Red-light running is a significant contributor to the number of people unintentionally injured in our roadways," said Martin Fenstersheib, co-chair of the Traffic Safe Communities Network based in San Jose, which began its yearly campaign in 1998.

Fenstersheib is backed by data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In 2003, the most recent year for which data is available from the administration's Fatality Analysis Reporting System, about 206,000 car crashes occurred across the states because of red-light violations.

In Santa Clara County that same year, there were 1,086 red-light collisions that caused 1,092 injuries and three deaths.

Last year in Palo Alto, Brown said there was a total of 534 red-light violations, or an average of 44 per month. Although officers have already given 337 tickets to red-light runners this year, averaging 48 per month, Brown could not say whether the problem has increased.

"We could not have another ticket for the rest of the year. It could be low one year or high one year," she said. "There's no one reason people run red lights.

However, Palo Alto officers have their reasons for targeting the three specific intersections next week.

Brown said drivers at the Page Mill Road and El Camino Real intersection are typically caught running a red light as they attempt to turn left across oncoming traffic.

Since the crossroad of University Avenue and Middlefield Road is a main entryway in and out of downtown Palo Alto, many drivers are in a rush to either get to work or home. Brown said that officers nab plenty of red-light runners on University Avenue through downtown as well, which she found a bit illogical since the stop lights are on timers.

"You're going to have to wait anyway," she said.

The Embarcadero Road and St. Francis Drive intersection is simply near U.S. Highway 101, and drivers may also be in a rush.

As one of the most basic rules of the road, running a red light is also a costly offense. The violation's minimum fine is $336, not to mention further costs caused by a collision, which may include car-repair costs, increases in auto insurance, lost wages and medical bills.

For more information on this year's National Stop on Red Week, visit

Staff Writer Alexandria Rocha can be e-mailed at


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