To the surprise of some motorists, Baltimore is not one of the nation's worst cities for red-light running -- at least where fatalities are concerned.
A new national study ranks Baltimore 55th for fatal crashes caused by red-light running, despite the city's reputation as a place where drivers treat stoplights as optional.
"That's better than I thought," said Del. Ann Marie Doory, a Baltimore Democrat, when told of the ranking. "It's pretty bad around here, so it must be really bad elsewhere."
Cities such as Baltimore should not necessarily pat themselves on the back, said Richard Retting, senior transportation engineer at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which released the study yesterday.
The ranking only measured fatal crashes, not injury crashes or red-light running in general, he explained. Some older, East Coast cities such as Baltimore might have benefited from the fact that lower speed limits, narrower roads and traffic congestion often keep red-light runners from going fast enough to kill, he said.
"This is not a sigh of relief for cities that are ranked low," Retting said. "I think it reflects the fact that speeds are lower and there's a lot of congestion in cities like Baltimore and New York and Boston."
New York and Boston ranked 71st and 72nd respectively. Baltimore, however, had fewer crashes, per population, than Washington, ranked 30th.
Three of the top five cities for fatal red-light crashes are in Arizona, where speed limits are higher, Retting said. The top five cities, in order, are: Phoenix; Mesa, Ariz.; Memphis, Tenn.; Tucson, Ariz., and St. Petersburg, Fla. "Many of the urban intersections [in such places] are designed for speeds of 40 or 50 mph," making crashes more severe, he said.
By contrast, in most areas of Baltimore, the maximum speed limit is 35 mph, said Agent Angelique Cook-Hayes, Baltimore Police Department spokeswoman.
The institute measured fatal crashes from 1992 to 1996, adjusting for population. Crashes involving pedestrians and bicycles were not included because of difficulties determining fault, Retting said.
Overall, fatal crashes at traffic signals rose 19 percent from 1992 to 1996, compared with a 6 percent rise in all other fatal crashes, the institute said.
Drivers running red lights cause an estimated 260,000 crashes a year. About 750 of them are fatal and 122,000 inflict injuries, Retting said.
Red-light runners in fatal crashes involving two cars are likely to be younger than age 30; to have a suspended, revoked or invalid driver's license; and to be drunk, he said.
Baltimore's ranking in the study did not impress state Del. Michael Dobson of Baltimore. "That's no consolation to every person that is killed or maimed or hurt by someone running a light," he said. Dobson should know.
One evening in October, a driver with his headlights off ran a red light at 28th and Charles streets and struck Dobson's car.
"If I didn't have my seat belt on, I'd either be in very bad shape or dead," Dobson said. He suffered bruises and strained ligaments.
Like several Baltimoreans interviewed yesterday, Dobson said he waits for several seconds after a light turns green before entering the intersection. Drivers behind him might get annoyed, he said, but he wants to avoid the red-light runners.
City Councilman Martin O'Malley said he sees red-light running every day on his drive downtown from Northeast Baltimore. O'Malley said he supports the city's plans to install automated cameras to take photos of vehicles that run red lights and issue tickets.
Kurt L. Kocher, a spokesman for the city Public Works Department, said Baltimore's ranking of 55 out of 78 cities was "positive," but "we're always trying to improve traffic safety."
This chart lists the five cities with the most fatalities (per 100,000 population) caused by red-light runners from 1992 to 1996.
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..Number .. .. .. .. .Crashes per
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..of crashes .. ..100,000 population
1. Phoenix, Ariz. .. .. .. ..88 ... .. .. .. .. .. ..8.11
2. Mesa, Ariz. .. .. .. .. ..23 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 7.08
3. Memphis, Tenn. .. .. .. ..34 .. .. .. .. .. .. ...5.45
4. Tucson, Ariz. .. .. .. ...23 .. . .. .. .. .. .. .5.11
5. St. Petersburg, Fla. .. ..12 .. .. .. .. .. .. ...4.95
55. Baltimore .. .. .. .. ...13 .. .. .. .. .. .. ...1.83
SOURCE: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
Pub Date: 5/21/98