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House OKs revamped ‘intersection’ definition over safety concerns

The House on Wednesday passed a bill that aims to redefine what constitutes an intersection, despite warnings by police that the change will lead to more traffic fatalities.

If HB2557 is given final approval in the Senate and signed into law, an intersection would be legally expanded to include the crosswalk.

The new definition would give would-be red-light runners extra time to get through an intersection without breaking the law.

Wednesday’s approval comes after an earlier version of the bill failed in the House Transportation Committee, after a Phoenix police officer said the bill would create more dangerous intersections.

The current bill failed on the House floor a week earlier, but was brought for reconsideration Wednesday.

The original bill that died in committee, SB1313, was sponsored by Sen. Frank Antenori, a Tucson Republican who himself has been cited for running red lights.

Antenori and the bill’s supporters, however, have focused on the fact that the change would put Arizona in line with 48 other states that have adopted the same definition.

“It brings standardization of what an intersection is,” said Rep. Ted Vogt, the Tucson Republican sponsoring the latest incarnation of Antenori’s bill. “So as you’re traveling from town to town or from state to state, you know what the rules are.”

And implementation of the change would not go into effect until 2014, in order to give extra time to cities that would need to move red light camera sensors installed in the roads.

But the bill met vocal opposition from legislators who say the change invites riskier driving behavior and gives red-light runners a few more tenths of a second to legally pass through an intersection.

Those points were backed by police who say the only possible result from implementing the change will be an increase in injuries and fatalities at intersections.

Lyle Mann, the director of the state’s police training agency, Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training Board (AZPOST), said it’s a simple matter of physics.

Drivers who make a split decision to pass through the intersection at the last moment could possibly t-bone a driver who entered the intersection after their light has turned green. The same logic applies to pedestrians who begin to cross a street because the signal has changed to “WALK,” before a driver who entered the intersection at the last moment safely clears it.

Vogt said he doesn’t believe that the bill will necessarily lead to increased traffic accidents, since he’s unaware of a spike in accidents in states that have adopted the standard.

“If it turned out that this led to higher fatalities in these other states, I think we’d be going the other way. We’d have fewer and fewer states adopting these standards,” Vogt said.

But Mann said the comparison to other states needs to consider another critical component, which is the length of time that all of an intersection’s signals stay red before giving one traffic direction a green light.

He also said that other states might not have the wide, seven- or eight-lane roads found in parts of Arizona.

“My question would be, what else do those other states have in their traffic system to compensate for the expanded intersection definition?” Mann said. “Have they reviewed that? I don’t know that they have.”

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