Can longer red lights prevent traffic crashes? Lakeland is looking into it.

Polk County

LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – To try to prevent crashes at traffic lights, would an occasional delay at the red light work?

It’s being studied in Lakeland.

“In a T-bone crash, that is one of the most severe crashes you can have, other than a head-on, of course. So we want to prevent that T-bone crash. It’s very, very difficult,” said Angelo Rao, Lakeland’s traffic operation manager.

It may be difficult but Rao has waited decades for this moment.

“I’ve been dreaming about this since 1997. It’s been a dream of mine. Technology wasn’t there,” he said.

Since February, Lakeland has been studying data from traffic cameras and sensors at four intersections. Rao believes it’s the first study to be conducted to this magnitude in Florida.

The sensors were installed in November 2018 for $60,000. They predict when a driver is about to run a red light.

“We’ll be measuring their speed and their distance to the intersection then calculating by computer whether or not he or she is going to run that red light,” Rao explained.

Sensor at intersection of Bartow Road and North Crystal Lake Drive

The sensors can read from 100 – 400 feet away, depending on the speed and the intersection.

The system can then extend the all-red light signal to allow the red light runner to go through.

“That way the person who would have normally got the green light, stays back,” said Rao.

In 2018, 9,277 red light camera citations were issued, according to the Lakeland Police Department.

“We see violations anywhere from about a tenth of a second into the red to as high as, believe it or not, 14 seconds. That’s pretty egregious,” said Rao.

One day, Rao conducted a random study at Bartow Road and North Crystal Lake Drive.

He found 52 drivers ran a red light when the perpendicular drivers had a green light.

“I shutter to think what it must be statewide,” said Rao.

The city of Lakeland will continue collecting data and present a report to the Florida Department of Transportation. Then Rao hopes the FDOT will approve a study by the Traffic Engineering Research Lab in Tallahassee.

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