Red-light runners
October 25, 2004 7:50 PM   Subscribe

As a pissed-off pedestrian and all-too-frequent near-victim of vehicular homicide, what can I do in the way of inflicting public shame (or, at the very least, education) on drivers who run red lights? (Without resorting to violence. Or childish name-calling.)
posted by PrinceValium to Travel & Transportation (30 answers total)
Why not carry around a wad of shit with you?

Seriously, there is nothing you can do. I almost get hit all the time by people in this town who regularly do not use their turn-signals or are talking on cellphones. What are you going to do, write down their plate-numbers and turn them in? They're assholes, and the pedestrian or bicyclist is helpless before them.

Unless you want to consider getting hit intentionally--hoping to survive--and suing them.
posted by interrobang at 8:02 PM on October 25, 2004

The trouble is that no matter what your intention is, you can't predict the reaction of the person you're shaming. Not all red light runners are simply being inattentive -- at least some of them are pursuing their lips and just going, for whatever reason. A subset of these people are probably just on the edge of freaking out anyway. Eventually you'll find one who doesn't take to your shaming as if they're in a Mentos commercial. My advice -- which I don't always follow myself -- is to leave people alone. You aren't the red light cop, and it isn't worth it.
posted by coelecanth at 8:18 PM on October 25, 2004

I usually beat the car with my fist as it drives by, and extend my middle finger.
posted by Kwantsar at 8:19 PM on October 25, 2004

If you're talking about a car speeding through a red light and almost hitting you, I'm not sure there's much you can do.

But maybe you're talking about a slow-moving or stopped car that is blocking a pedestrian crossing or is turning a corner in such a way that they almost hit you. In those cases I will sometimes knock on the vehicle. I do not bash their car, but I do knock hard enough for them to realize that there are people walking around outside of their vehicle.
posted by gluechunk at 8:20 PM on October 25, 2004

Run into the car if in an intersection, or smack the side, if you get the chance.

Depends on how confrontational you are. A buddy of mine makes a habit of running into cars that are stopped in the ped xing with great force, often denting the cars. He's also 400 lb of buzz-cut gun-nut, so results may vary.

On preview, whoops, I guess that's not non-violent.
posted by notsnot at 8:29 PM on October 25, 2004

In my country, I call *555 on my cellphone, if there's no pressing danger the police send me an incident report form in the mail, I fill it out and then the offender gets a call from an officer explaining that they're about to be charged with careless driving. The last time I did this the person in question had just crashed a pedestrian crossing outside a primary school with kids starting to cross, received a several $100 fine.

Also, I have been known to accost offenders at traffic lights or in car parks and explain my displeasure.

In fact, I AM the red light cop. I have a kid, I don't want her bowled by some inattentive fuckstick who's late for work.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:29 PM on October 25, 2004

spleen man, the only reason that guy had to pay the fine was because he's an idiot. The first rule is, when you are speaking to the police, waffle on everything (denying things gets them offensive -- better to have them halfway on your side). As long as you, the accused, never admit you did something wrong, no claim from a citizen will do anything unless...

You have evidence. If you're often getting hit by cars, why aren't you thinking of wearing a camera to snap their plates? If you attach that to the report, all of a sudden you have a VERY strong case against the person, and you might even be able to squeeze some cash from them for pain and suffering for yourself to pay for your fancy shmancy new SLR digital camera.

Of course, all this can be solved in a much more civil manner. Write your town council/MP/governor/mayor/whatever to extend the full red time on intersections. That would be basically the guard time where an intersection is red on all four sides. This way people late for work rushing about, while they do blast through a red light, they aren't running things over. Eventually they'll get a ticket *AND* not hurt people, too. Everybody wins.
posted by shepd at 8:55 PM on October 25, 2004

In Portland, we have pretty strict pedestrian laws and the police enforce them. I work in an area that's heavy with crosswalks, and I see a cop pull someone over for violating them at least once a day. (We also have a law that you're not allowed to pass a car that's stopped to allow a pedestrian to pass.)

The best thing to do is to just watch out and to acknowledge that you can't do anything, and mentally subtract about a billion points from the person's karma score. The thing NOT to do is to throw something like your keys at another person's car, even if they're breaking the law. Someone did that to me... I was questionably within my legal rights, making a right turn on red while he was still on the sidewalk ... he threw his keys at my car and scratched/dented my bumper all to shit. I stopped and was about to beat the crap out of him but ended up calling the cops and following him until they got there. They gave him a ticket and he had to pay to get my bumper repainted.
posted by SpecialK at 9:06 PM on October 25, 2004

Lobby your city/municipality to install red light cameras at problematic intersections. I've seen a pretty big difference in the way people drive in my city, at least on the streets where there are cameras.
posted by teg at 9:07 PM on October 25, 2004

shepd, you live in the wrong country. The guy did deny it at first, but I was prepared to testify in court.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:11 PM on October 25, 2004

I wave my arms in the air while looking at the car and scream "RED!" as loudly and angrily as I can muster. On my daily walking commute, when I lived in Charlottesville, I had cause to do this at least once a week.
posted by waldo at 9:23 PM on October 25, 2004

Also, I have been known to accost offenders at traffic lights or in car parks and explain my displeasure.

In fact, I AM the red light cop. I have a kid, I don't want her bowled by some inattentive fuckstick who's late for work.

In fact, you AREN'T the red light cop, and having a kid doesn't confer any extra righteousness on you. I'm really sorry; it doesn't. One of my parents was the cop of all red light runners, tailgaters and litterbugs in my childhood; they did me no favors by exposing me to all their petty traffic altercations.

PrinceValium, I think people who run red lights should go to JAIL, and I can't always manage to keep my mouth shut either, but developing a schtick for calling people out isn't going to give you the satisfaction you desire. Seriously.
posted by coelecanth at 10:13 PM on October 25, 2004

And, spleen, if you did that and he denied it, it's your word against his. Unless you're a police officer, the judge will be required by law to give the benefit of the doubt to the defendant and you lose. As soon as you have *any* evidence past your word, you can win.

Sometimes, even if the other person is a police officer, if they're not all that perfect when writing you up, you win, too. Example: My following too close ticket I beat. Many mistakes on the ticket coupled with my careful wording and the fact the officer wasn't supposed to write that type of ticket for the offence meant it didn't even go as far as court. However, the prosecution got a full set of notes from the police officer and basically admitted to me there was nothing I said in there that would incriminate me.

Otherwise, I can just look up random people in the phone book and accuse them of stuff and get them in some serious trouble.

Note that I'm defending someone on a case on this topic (accused of assault without witness or evidence), so perhaps I'm biased. :-) No, IANAL.

NOW, that being said, this is for criminal court (the sort of thing you cause people to deal with if you manage to convince the police to file charges). If you take such matters to civil court (sue the other person, personally) the defedent no longer needs to convince the judge of reasonable doubt, they must convince the judge that their argument is most likely [preponderence of the evidence] Much tougher for the defendant -- in your case, spleen, it goes from the defendant sending an official affidavit to court with the words "Plea of Not Guilty" (ok, he might need to say those words in court) to the defendent needing to prove he couldn't have done it, for example, maybe with a copy of a receipt from somewhere he was shopping at the time you accuse him.

Be assured, just as you "reasonably doubt" the salesman at Best Buy that his products are as fantacular as he suggests, the judge doubts you just as much.

coelecanth, jail is reserved for offenders that have either committed egregious offences (such as actually murdering someone) or for offenders that are very likely to re-offend. Sorry, running a red light without hitting someone doesn't pass the first litmus test, and it doesn't pass the second, since driving is a privilege, which can be revoked instead of jail time. Removing someone's privilege to drive would be effective, but it's not the cash cow a good solid fine is for the city. Your attitude is typical of Americans, though, and it explains why the USA beats China for jailing its citizens, and it explains why about 1 in 4 black americans you meet can tell you a story about being prison, probably multiple times. Not to mention that 22% of the world's prison population is in the USA (which is 5% of world population in general).

I apologize for being so offtopic here. Sorry.
posted by shepd at 10:27 PM on October 25, 2004

Put me in the car-banging group. I've taken this tack for a few years with mostly benign results. In Chicago some yuppie punk stopped and got out of his vehicle while shouting at me. He failed to note the cop controlling traffic and was promptly ticketed for some infraction. I also once whapped an off-duty cop's civillian vehicle after he actually nicked me. He got out and threatened me with many forms of abuse after mentioning he was a cop. The idiot actually gave me his badge number. A quick call to CPD from the federal appellate court where I worked at the time resulted in one suspended cop.

Usually, though, they just drive off in the same oblivious state that caused them to almost nail me in the first place...
posted by Fezboy! at 10:28 PM on October 25, 2004

Gak. shepd, I do not live in the US, I live in a country with different laws of evidence, and I assure you that the police in my jurisdiction were quite confident of a conviction.

Returning to the direct topic at hand, even if a complaint to your local authorities doesn't often win, maybe it's still worth it for the odd time that it does.

coelacanth: I agree, it doesn't make me more right. But it does make me more angry, since I have a more visceral understanding of the consequences. And I'm not your parents.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:00 PM on October 25, 2004

Cars have horns. Why shouldn't you?
posted by tss at 11:24 PM on October 25, 2004

spleen, I'm from Canada and we're supposed to have a similar law set to yours (NZ) and the same requirements should apply to you as well as me. The police are always more than happy to file a charge because if they start to hem and haw on it, they can get in a LOT of trouble. It does NOT mean they're likely to win.

In your case, perhaps you had more evidence you didn't mention here... bruises, marks on the car, fingerprints, whatever. :-) Really, in no free country should a mere accusation convict someone.
posted by shepd at 11:26 PM on October 25, 2004

Not that I advocate such things but on long bike commutes when I feel threatened, say by a soccer mom van or suv that starts drifting into the bike lane, I've been known to use my U-lock to knock on the passenger side window.

The kids call it "ulock justice"!
posted by asterisk at 2:34 AM on October 26, 2004

The guy who runs the red light usually doesn't give a damn. Shaming them isn't possible because, by definition, they don't give a damn. They might get hostile in retaliation. If you luck out on a plain inattentive driver maybe it'd work, they still might be pissed off but maybe the realization of their near miss would penetrate their skull and reach grey matter. Filing reports probably won't result in actual action against the driver unless there's a number of reports. In that case they'll be forced to go in for an interview (at least in Canada, specifically Ontario). Like a speeding ticket or getting off on a warning many people become more cautious and adhere to the law more closely for a period of time afterwards. As a veteran of many speeding tickets I will say that it's a short term thing.

Personally I usually use my middle finger to express my opinion but I'm big enough to get away with it. It doesn't actually fix anything but it makes me feel better. In Toronto I did smash a couple of cars with my fist but they were purposely being assholes because I was riding a bike.
posted by substrate at 5:20 AM on October 26, 2004

Shep, I think running a red light, or in any other way endangering pedestrians is an egregious offence. If someone would market a small paint pistol with bright yellow traffic-sign colored paint, we could use it on cars that cut us off and publicly mark them as traffic assholes until they get to a car wash. However, pedestrians don't have a lobby. Cars have AAA, car makers, gas sellers, etc., lobbying for their needs, so in the US, we're screwed.

Mmmm, bitterness so early in the day.
posted by theora55 at 5:38 AM on October 26, 2004

A small air horn like tss suggests. You can get mini air horns. I have a 1.8oz. one that's 5 in. tall with a 2 in. horn. You could also carry a mini megaphone.
posted by lobakgo at 8:53 AM on October 26, 2004

Yes, definitely carry a mini-horn for red light runners. Also carry a cowbell for people who take too many items into the express line at the grocery store, and a whistle for people who talk on their cell phones at restaurants, and a pair of cymbals for people who spank their kids in public, and a kazoo for people who wear wear ugly pants.

Oh, heck, I guess you could just use the air horn on all of them.

Seriously, in a jurisdiction near me, you can be arrested even for saying "fuck you" to someone. It happened to a friend of mine. I gave a tailgater the finger once and got run off the road for it. When the cops arrived the guy was at my car trying to shove me around, and the cops blamed me for starting it.
posted by coelecanth at 10:19 AM on October 26, 2004

Uh, yeah, because we all know that too many items for the express line, cell phones in restaurants, public spankings, and ugly pants can kill you. Have you seen the results of a car vs. pedestrian accident? The pedestrian usually loses. Permanently.
posted by lobakgo at 10:28 AM on October 26, 2004

I never have seen the results of a car vs. pedestrian accident, despite having lived mostly as a pedestrian in a medium-sized city with big-city traffic woes for many years; and the air horn you use today on asshole A, doesn't actually affect the behavior of asshole B, who runs the red light tomorrow. Unless everybody carries and uses air horns all the time. But of course that's a pie-in-the-sky utopia.
posted by coelecanth at 10:42 AM on October 26, 2004

Unless everybody carries and uses air horns all the time. But of course that's a pie-in-the-sky utopia.

Sounds noisy. :-)
posted by shepd at 11:02 AM on October 26, 2004

Write your town council/MP/governor/mayor/whatever to extend the full red time on intersections.

That's actually a bad idea. All that that does is lengthem commute times, increase congestion, and further cause driver anger -- it makes unfortunate accidents more likely.

Statistically, the best way to reduce red-light running is to lengthen the yellow time, not the red. A longer warning time catches fewer people off guard, and causes more psychological pressure on would-be intentional runners to stop. Sure, you get your nutcases, but you always will.

This is more effective, and cheaper, than red light cameras, from what I recall reading. The downside is that it doesn't help pad your local municipality's budget, of course.
posted by jammer at 11:18 AM on October 26, 2004

A longer warning time catches fewer people off guard, and causes more psychological pressure on would-be intentional runners to stop. Sure, you get your nutcases, but you always will.

Eh... but people around here run the yellows. I am pretty sure the moment they are extended people will realize it and still end up in the middle of the intersection on red.

But hey, longer yellows would be nice, because those red light cameras aren't like police officers. They charge you without even a second thought to the actual situation (like being stuck in an intersection when there's an accident ahead, etc.)
posted by shepd at 1:17 PM on October 26, 2004

This is more effective, and cheaper, than red light cameras, from what I recall reading.

More effective still are higher taxes on cars and gasoline, higher bridge and tunnel tolls, annual driver license renewals, higher insurance requirements, and high-occupancy vehicle rules at all times. That cuts down on the cars, delays, tension, speeding, pollution, and noise. And the number of vehicles I have to kick, the number of drivers I have to spit at through open windows, and the number of jerk-offs who hear me shouting, "That's a red light, asshole!" usually to the approval of those around me.
posted by Mo Nickels at 5:41 PM on October 26, 2004

I wouldn't do this myself, but if you really wanted you could call the cops right away with a cell phone and say something along the lines of "there's a [color] [make] [model] [licence plate] heading [direction]-bound on [streetname]. he just passed [cross-street] and he's been driving extremely erraticly. He just ran a red light and I'm really concerned that he'll hit someone if he stays on the road; I think he might be under the influence of alcohol/narcotics." in your best concerned citizen voice.
posted by juv3nal at 6:44 PM on October 26, 2004

More effective still are higher taxes on cars and gasoline, higher bridge and tunnel tolls, annual driver license renewals, higher insurance requirements

You like walking to a coffee store and buying a coffee for $1? Or $3 at StarBucks?

Try making it a $5 coffee. Remember, every single time you tax a business (which is what all those things do) the consumer pays it all. Always. And a general transportation tax will affect everything. Even welfare cheques will cost more to cut (mailman drives them to the house).

In fact, to make said charges more obvious to the consumer, canada post separates out a "fuel surcharge" on packages sent. If you'd like to see about another $50 of surcharges on your packages, this is the way to do it.

and high-occupancy vehicle rules at all times.

Make that a $20 coffee. If you're going to force my work van to have 3 employees in it, you're going to pay 5x more for your stuff. 3x because I have to charge that. And the other 2x because whenever prices hike up businesses take the opportunity to gouge you.

People always forget that taxes on businesses are always paid by them. Always, always, always. It's the first rule of business: Pass the cost of doing business on to the consumer. I know my store did it immediately when fuel went up 20 cents / litre.
posted by shepd at 7:06 PM on October 26, 2004

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