Many motorists may not admit it outloud, but at one time or another most have run a red light or two in their lifetime.
Whether late for work or just simply impatient — especially during busy traffic hours on busy Brainerd lakes area roads — it happens a lot, local law enforcement officials say.
Those officers have seen their fair share of motorists traveling straight through a signalized traffic light while it was red, which can cause serious injury crashes, delay traffic or simply annoy other motorists.
Motorists — especially those prone to running a red light — may now want to think twice.
Nine traffic lights have been installed, with three more to be equipped, with a blue light that’s meant to help catch red light scofflaws. The blue light is very noticeable during the nighttime hours and can be seen from a distance. During the daytime hours, a motorist may still see the light.
So what does this blue light do?
The main purpose of the blue lights is to help law enforcement officers catch motorists running a red light in a more efficient and safe manner. The blue lights come on when the signal turns red so officers can see the blue light and what vehicle has entered the intersection while in their squad vehicle at a distance.
Baxter Police Chief Jim Exsted said having the blue lights installed in the lakes area began with discussions about four years ago with the Brainerd’s Toward Zero Deaths group. The group uses education, enforcement, engineering, and emergency medical and trauma services with the goal to have zero deaths on Minnesota roads and highways. Brainerd Toward Zero Deaths group members saw this blue light in other states and thought it would be a good idea to add the blue lights to the lakes area.
Discussions began with the Minnesota Department of Transportation and all the agencies involved agreed it would be a good idea.
The blue lights were installed at the following intersections:
Highway 210 and Cypress Drive.
Highways 210 and 371.
Highway 371 and Crow Wing County Highway 48, also known as Highland Scenic Road.
Highway 371 and Lower County Highway 77, where Wise Road and Pine Beach Road intersect.
Highways 25 and 18.
Highways 210 and 25.
Highway 210 and Northwest Fourth Street.
Highways 210 and 169.
Highways 371 and 200.
MnDOT Traffic Engineer Ken Hansen of District 3, Baxter and St, Cloud offices, worked with the Minnesota State Patrol and the police chiefs in Brainerd, Baxter and Aitkin on the plan for the new lights.
Hansen said there were some delays in installing the lights due to COVID-19, as supplies were not readily available. Equipment and installation of the nine lights was just under $16,000. Hansen said the blue lights have LED indication and are tied to the traffic lights so when the light turns red the blue light will go on.
Lt. Brad Bordwell of the Minnesota State Patrol Brainerd District said with the blue lights it now will take just one trooper or a police officer to make a traffic stop on someone who ran a red light, instead of two. The officer/trooper can position themselves a distance away from the blue light intersection, he said. When the officer sees the blue light come on and the vehicle runs through the light, the officer will be facing the right position so it is easy and safe to pull the vehicle over for a citation.
“(The trooper or officer) physically doesn’t have to be behind the violator,” Bordwell said. “When the (motorist) watches the light turn red and drives through it, (the officer/trooper) just has to pay attention to the blue light. He then knows which vehicles went through the light and he is already facing the right direction to pull them over.
“It’s horrible,” Bordwell said of motorists running red lights. “It’s one of my pet peeves. ... Today (Tuesday) was bad. I was going northbound on Highway 371 and we had the greenlight to go north and four more vehicles turned through the intersection. ... It drives me crazy. And I am back in traffic so I can’t do anything about it because I’m in the wrong lane and I can’t go over to get them.
“It’s a big issue of people running red lights. This seems so simple to me... people just need to slow down and not run red lights.”
Brainerd Police Chief Corky McQuiston said the blue lights will be a great advantage for police officers in the city of Brainerd as the traffic can be heavy and congested at times. Officers will be able to make the stop with one police officer instead of two in a safer, more effective manner.
“(Officers) used to have to work in pairs where one person would watch the intersection, watch the light change and then radio to another officer that we would consider to be downstream from the violation to make the stop,” McQuiston said. “Now, with the blue lights we can hopefully be able to do the same amount of enforcement, but just with one officer. The officer can position themselves to where he or she can see the intersection, see the violation, and see the light in the downstream position to where they can pull out into traffic more safely and stop the car making the violation.”
McQuiston said the city gets a lot of complaints of motorists running red lights, especially on Washington Street and Northwest Fourth Street, near Walgreens. Police try to enforce the traffic violations that officers see, but it can be difficult if officers are not in the right position to pull the violator over in a safe manner.
“Hopefully when people start seeing the blue lights and we are able to do more enforcement they will be in more compliance, just because of people’s awareness of the violation,” McQuiston said. “The intersection of highway 18 and 25, we have had crashes there where we are really hoping the increased red light running enforcement will help drive some of those crashes down.”
Exsted said the Toward Zero Deaths group hopes the blue lights will make the roads and highways safer, as people running red lights is a problem everywhere.
“The bigger issue is not the two or three that try to tag along at the end of the yellow light turning into a red light,” Exsted said. “It's more about somebody who's not paying attention, and completely blows through a red light at a high rate of speed. That's where we've seen some very tragic crashes over the years. I think what this will do is this will help us get out there and be better at enforcing the violations, which in turn will make people become aware that we are paying attention and hopefully will deter some of that activity.”
Exsted said the blue lights also will be beneficial in court hearings if a person fights the citation.
“In the past we have to be able to testify that we saw the light was red when the vehicle proceeded through the intersection,” Exsted said. “In order to see that you have to be right up front or in certain areas. With these blue lights that allows us to position our squads to anticipate somebody running a red light. And we don't have to be in a position to see the red light now, if we see the blue light that is tied in with that specific red light. Once that goes blue, we know that light is red and that the car moved through the intersection and at that point we can testify to that. It's no longer, ‘We saw the right light.’ Now the officers will testify that they observed the blue light.”