Red-light runners a hot topic for the Fort Smith Board

by Tina Alvey Dale (tdale@talkbusiness.net) 522 views 

The Fort Smith Board of Directors discussed ways  Tuesday (May 14) to stop what appears to some an abundance of people running red lights in Fort Smith. Interim Police Chief Danny Baker told the board during the study session that police enforcement alone is not going to solve the problem of red light running.

“The issue of red light running has been a persistent and recurring concern for as long as I have been a police officer. The belief that it is reaching epidemic proportions in Fort Smith is a very real concern for many,” Baker said in a memo to Carl Geffken, city administrator. “The police department has been and remains committed to addressing red light violations in a safe and appropriate manner as resources allow.”

Baker told the board that since Jan. 1, 2014, there had been 15,153 traffic accidents worked by the Fort Smith Police Department. Of those, 705 (or 4.6%) were caused by someone running a red light. Of those 705, 26 resulted in serious injuries. One resulted in a fatality.

“Realistically, we are not seeing that many accidents,” Baker said. “Over more than a five year period, there has been one fatality. But one is too many.”

Baker noted that the issue of red light running might be more a matter of perception than reality, but agreed that like many others in Fort Smith, he sits at red lights daily and is angered by the number of people who chose to run through intersections during a red light. Director Kevin Settle asked that a review of options to address red light violations be placed on an upcoming board study session at the April 16 regular meeting of the board.

“My whole point of bringing this up is that we’ve got to make sure we do everything we can to make sure this city is as safe as possible and either get people to stop running red lights … or someone is going to get killed one day and we’re all going to look back and say we should have done something to stop it,” Settle said.

Certain state laws make citing motorists for running a red light more difficult, Baker said. First, the state does not allow for automated enforcement. This means information from an automated device that captures and reports a violation can not be used to issue a citation under Arkansas law. This means that using traffic cameras to catch those who run red lights is not lawful. Also in 2009, state law changed where in the intersection a car could legally be when a light changed to red.

“Drivers have had 10 years to adjust how they see red lights,” Baker said. “Now instead of trying to beat a green light, they are trying to beat a yellow.”

Ideas to help control the problem ranged from enacting a city a law that would levy a steeper fine for running a red light to making red lights longer, increasing the time of all red at intersections and target enforcing at certain intersections. Most stoplight-controlled intersections have an all stop sequence ranging from 0.5 to 2 seconds depending on the corridor, city officials stated.

The fine for running a red light in Arkansas (first offense) is typically $100. Settle suggested the city enact a law that could make that fine upwards to $500.

“Maybe a bigger fine would be more of incentive to not do it,” he said.

Baker said they received the most complaints about motorist running red lights at the intersections of 74th Street and Rogers Avenue and Phoenix Avenue and Old Greenwood Road.

“We use direct enforcement, where we have someone patrolling a particular location at a particular time, like at South 74th Street and Rogers Ave.,” Baker said. “I encourage my officer to have zero tolerance approach to someone running a red light. I can’t tell them they have to, but I encourage them to not give out a warning, but to issue a citation.”

But another problem can stem from a crackdown in patrolling intersections, Baker said.

“In heavy traffic, does it make it more dangerous to hit the sirens and lights and try to stop a motorist? It definitely creates a whole other situation,” he said.

One thing that does help is that all officers now wear body-mounted video cameras that they can review in real time on their phone or in-vehicle computers, said Capt. Wes Milam, which means the officer can know for a fact when they stop a vehicle if the driver ran the red light. The videos can also help in prosecution of the offense.

“I know it’s on a lot of folk’s minds. … I’ve provided some information today that will hopefully help them (the board) to make decision on how they want to move forward with this,” Baker said.

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