Marvin Case

More can be done to save lives through better enforcement of red light traffic signals.

Last month a Ridgefield motorcyclist lost his life when he collided with a vehicle at a signaled intersection in Battle Ground. Witnesses say the motorcyclist entered the intersection legally but a crossing vehicle entered against a red light. That driver has been charged with vehicular homicide in the crash. The accused man has a different view of events and has not been convicted of a crime. Regardless, it seems clear that someone entered the intersection against a red traffic signal and a loss of life occurred.

A few months ago, this newspaper reported that red light enforcement is not a priority for area law enforcement agencies. The story was undertaken because of the reality that cars keep entering intersections well after signals turn red regardless of laws that would require them to stop.

This practice is not only dangerous but also frustrating to many law-abiding motorists who must wait at green lights while drivers enter intersections illegally and cross in front of them. It is no longer safe to enter an intersection when a light turns green because of cars crossing against red lights.

The Reflector reported that the Battle Ground police, Clark County sheriff and officials of the state patrol place emphasis on seat belts, distracted driving and driving while impaired, but not on red light infractions due to priorities set at the state and national levels. The agencies receive special funding for work on those matters.

Neither Battle Ground nor Clark County law enforcement agencies have traffic units or personnel assigned to traffic law enforcement. The county undersheriff described his agency as primarily a 911 response organization. He said citations for red light violations have been declining in recent years despite rising population.

The Battle Ground police chief told The Reflector that it’s not easy for an officer to witness a red light violation and to safely get through traffic to confront a violator. Officers must decide which violators, if any, they can safely stop, he said.

Officials had other reasons for not enforcing red lights more aggressively.

More effort should be placed on curtailing the growing practice of motorists entering intersections against red lights. Perhaps periodic patrols for this purpose at selected locations would make a difference. It’s all well and good to enforce seat belt laws but the fact is compliance with such laws is about 95 percent in this state. That’s clearly not the case for red traffic signals.

In light of the recent fatality, area law enforcement officials should discuss red light enforcement policies at one of their monthly meetings, and find ways to bring the growing epidemic of red light violations to an end.

Marvin Case is The Reflector’s publisher emeritus after owning and operating the paper from 1980 to 2011. He can be reached at marvincase@msn.com and at (360) 984-3626. 

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