Friday, December 3, 2010

Dumb Move: Accelerating Through a Red Light (9/3/2007)

This was originally posted on a horrible site called Myspace. When Myspace underwent a redesign in Fall 2010, hundreds of insightful reader comments that had been left over the years were lost. I have since deleted my account there.

We've all seen someone "gun it" when they approach a light that's changing from green to yellow or yellow to red. It dawned on me that among the many stupid, knee-jerk things that people do, this has got to rank as one of the stupidest.

When someone is approaching a changing light and they decide not to stop but to step on the gas, they're doing it so they'll get through the intersection faster, thereby perhaps making them less likely to get a ticket. I can't think of any other explanation; they aren't doing it out of kindness, to get out of the way of the people waiting to go. But let's think about this. Assuming that accelerating increases your speed by 10 MPH (say, from 30 MPH to 40 MPH), and even assuming that you're able to achieve this acceleration instantly just before you reach the light (which of course doesn't happen), stepping on the gas will get you across an 80-feet-wide intersection less than a half a second sooner. In reality, accelerating through the intersection, it's probably more like a quarter of a second. Now, I ask: If a cop is watching this, is a quarter of a second or a half of a second really going to make a difference whether or not you get pulled over? Also ask yourself: If you're a cop, which driver would you more likely go after -- one that coasts through a changing light, or one who conspicuously, noisily guns it? In terms of getting a ticket, there's a small chance you could elude a camera-generated ticket by getting through a blink of an eye earlier -- but if a real human is writing the ticket, he or she will go after the roaring, accelerating car first, every time. Guaranteed.

But there's a more important reason why this is a stupid move. Any golfer will tell you that if you accelerate the club through impact, applying force the whole time, you'll hit the ball much farther than if you accelerate only during the downswing and let the club "coast" through impact. Similarly, if you hit another vehicle as you go through an intersection, you'll cause more damage if you're accelerating through the impact than if you're coasting or deaccelerating. And of course, if accelerating makes your car go faster (as it tends to do), this will make the damage far greater. In other words, you're much more likely to kill someone at the precise moment that you're most likely to broadside another car -- when you're going through an intersection.

There's also the issue that if your foot is on the accelerator, it will take you that much longer to move it to the brake in the event of an imminent collision -- hence, a delayed reaction and more damage.

Finally, if your car has air bags, it also has a device called an Event Data Recorder that will reveal to investigators not only the speed your vehicle was going at impact, but also whether the brake or the accelerator was being applied, and for how long prior to impact. There are numerous cases in which EDR data have been used in court to increase criminal penalties due to recklessness of the drivers involved. If you find yourself in court after killing two kids in a broadside crash, it's not going to look very good for you if the prosecutor can prove that you were flooring it when you hit them.

If you're going to clip a red light, just let the car coast, keep your foot on the brake, and be alert. Accelerating through a red light is stupid and dangerous. Don't do it anymore.


  1. Which of these air travel mishaps proves that God makes miracles happen?

  2. Plus, cops have told me that they rarely can see whether the light is red or green, many times, they just look for acceleration to tell if people go through red lights! People are conditioned to do that, but I'm sure many can learn differently when they know the facts.

  3. thanks for sharing...