Safety Street Q&A Series: Tom Hanley, Red-Light Running Collision Victim
The Safety Street Q&A series features NCSR partners, industry leaders and other notable transportation organizations who are working towards the collaborative goal of safer roads.
Tom Hanley’s life abruptly changed forever when a shuttle bus driver transporting his entire wedding party ran a red-light. His best friend and wedding officiant was killed instantly in the tragic collision and Tom suffered injuries that still affect him today. Since the accident, Tom has worked closely with NCSR to share his story as a cautionary tale of the consequences of red-light running.
Safety Street had a chance to speak with Tom about the collision that changed his life and his thoughts on red-light running and road safety. Read the Q&A below to learn more:
You have a very powerful story. Can you briefly describe your experience with red-light running and how it has affected you?
In June of 2010, I was on board a commercial vehicle for a wedding here in Indianapolis with close friends and family. Our driver failed to stop at a red light and collided with an SUV, which caused our bus to flip on its side. My best friend Jim was partially ejected from the bus upon impact and died instantly. In addition, I suffered two broken vertebrae and a brain injury, both of which continue to impact me more than three years later and will most likely play a role for the rest of my life.
Jim, myself, or the other 12 other innocent passengers on the bus had a reasonable expectation for an attentive commercial driver in control of our bus. Instead, we had a driver that, without any real explanation, was improperly licensed to drive the vehicle, ran a red light and forever changed our lives. If he had properly stopped at the intersection, Jim would still be here today.
Has your experience changed the way that you approach driving and road safety?
From a young age, I have traveled a lot and always made the effort to be acutely aware of avoiding distracted behavior while driving. I have always tried to make driving my complete and total focus while behind the wheel. My experience made me realize that no matter what I do, I can’t control what other drivers around me are doing. I pay very close attention now when entering intersections, no matter how long I have had the right of way, to check and see if vehicles might be running a light as I enter. I also typically wait a split second after a light turns green to allow for anybody who was trying to beat a yellow light to enter and exit the intersection.
In my collision, we had a driver who carelessly ran a red light. No matter what qualifications somebody may have, their carelessness can still cause injury and death to innocent people.
You have been a long-time partner of NCSR, using your story highlight the message that red-light running has serious consequences. Why is it important to you that drivers change their behavior in and around intersections?
The sights and sounds of my accident are something that will haunt me forever. In a perfect world, not a single person will have to try and revive their best friend in the moments after an accident; not a single person will have to carry the weight that there was nothing that could be done to save them; and not a single person will ultimately have to learn that their accident was caused by a red-light runner.
Not paying attention, trying to beat a red light or simply disregarding a signal can impact innocent bystanders for a lifetime. I live this reality every day. I miss my friend Jim all the time, as do the family and friends he left behind.
I know you are also a very active cyclist. On that front, what dangerous habits and road safety efforts do you regularly encounter?
As a cyclist, we have the same rights and rules of the road as any motor vehicle and I make sure to respect the same rules as if I were driving my car. Not all drivers are aware that cyclists have the same rights and many drivers don’t realize the speeds that can be carried on a bicycle. Therefore, I always try to make eye contact with drivers as I approach an intersection and I always try to anticipate what actions drivers will take as I approach. Even if I have the right-of-way, I’ll still come out on the losing end of a collision with a car so I make sure I am aware of what is going on around me.
What road safety policies and behaviors would you like to see implemented more across the US?
I would like to see more standardized enforcement of existing red-light running laws. Specific to our experience, I’d like to see better enforcement of commercial vehicles. Our driver walked away with $150 ticket for running a red light, despite the fact he killed one, injured 14 others and was improperly licensed to be driving the commercial vehicle. It is my goal that my ongoing work with NCSR will help carry a vocal, serious focus on the dangerous consequences for red-light runners not just here in Indiana, but across the country.
The National Coalition for Safer Roads (NCSR) helps save lives and protect communities by demonstrating how red-light safety cameras can improve driver behavior.