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What makes you run a red light?

By Barbara Marquand on July 22nd, 2013

Distracted driving can have deadly consequences, and one of the places where it can be a killer is at traffic lights.

A new study that analyzed footage at intersections with red-light safety cameras found that 12 percent of drivers who ran red lights were distracted.

The analysis, conducted by the National Coalition for Safer Roads and FocusDriven, reviewed footage over a three-month period in 19 communities. Based on what they saw, they estimate that distracted driving was involved in more than 7 million intersection violations last year across the country.

Although cellphones are often blamed in discussions about distracted driving, the most common distraction detected in the study was simply looking the other way. When drivers ran red lights, they were looking away in 43 percent of the instances. Drivers who were looking the other way to make a left or right turn were not counted as distracted.

Cellphone use came in a close second. In 39 percent of the violations, drivers were using their phones.

Watch where you're going!

A variety of other distractions made up 18 percent of the violations. The most common among those was perhaps the most disturbing: Drivers had their eyes closed. Other distractions included smoking, drinking or eating, applying makeup, and reading.

Many cities have passed laws banning cellphone use while driving. The study found a significant difference when they compared communities with tough cellphone bans with those with lenient or no laws against cellphone use while driving. While less than 10 percent of red-light violations involved distractions in strict communities, more than 16 percent of the violations involved distracted driving in lax communities.

FocusDriven is a nonprofit headquartered in Omaha, Neb., that promotes cellphone-free driving and supports victims of distracted driving and their families. The National Coalition for Safer Roads is a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., that advocates for the use of red-light cameras at intersections.

The groups launched the "Stop Distraction on Red" campaign recently to raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving and running red lights. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says red-light violations are the No. 1 cause of city car crashes. Red-light runners injure an estimated 165,000 people each year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

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