November 21, 2023
Major Cities are Considering New Restrictions on Right Turns Amid Growing Concerns for Pedestrian and Cyclist Safety
While it may seem hard to believe, across the United States, the familiar sight of cars turning right at red lights may soon be a thing of the past. With an alarming increase in accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists, many cities are seriously considering banning this practice.
Let’s take a closer look at the true dangers presented by right on red, and what some cities are doing to mitigate those risks.
The Dangers Lurking at Red Lights
In most parts of the country, excluding New York City where right on red is already banned, the “right on red” maneuver is a common practice – yet more perilous than one may think. Danger often arises when drivers, focused on finding a gap in traffic, overlook pedestrians and cyclists crossing the road.
This oversight has led to a disturbing rise in injuries and fatalities, prompting a few major cities to contemplate a total ban on right turns at red lights.
Which Cities are Leading the Charge for Change?
Washington, D.C., recently set a precedent with its City Council approving a right on red ban effective from 2025. In Chicago, Mayor Brandon Johnson’s administration is exploring similar restrictions. Ann Arbor, Michigan, has already prohibited these turns in its downtown area.
Other major cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Denver are also considering bans, signaling a significant shift in urban traffic policies.
While San Francisco’s proposed ban seems likely to become law, making it the 2nd largest U.S. city to do so, prospects for a ban in car-centric Los Angeles may be more remote — at least for now.
An October, 2023 article on the subject published in the Los Angeles Times said the following:
“In Los Angeles, advocacy groups have pushed to hold pedestrian-friendly events to get across to the public the need to walk more and drive less, as well as advocating for lowering speed limits on some streets and other measures to improve safety. But even the most ardent supporters are doubtful that a push to ban right turns on red lights would gain any traction in the county, at least for now.
“This is something that’s going to take years of work to even get to the point where it would be considered in L.A.,” Kevitt said.
The Origins of Right on Red
The right on red policy originated in the 1970s during an energy crisis in the U.S. It aimed to reduce fuel consumption by preventing cars from idling at stoplights. While the policy was energy-conscious, it failed to consider its impact on road safety.
Subsequent studies have shown a stark increase in accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists following its implementation.
Statistical Insights: A Safety Hazard Unveiled
A 1982 study highlighted the unintended consequences of this policy, revealing a substantial rise in collisions involving pedestrians and cyclists. In Ohio and Wisconsin, these incidents skyrocketed, indicating a clear correlation between the right on red policy and road safety risks. In Toronto, right on red turns have historically accounted for a significant percentage of pedestrian and cyclist deaths. Extrapolating these figures to the U.S. context suggests about 190 fatalities annually, a concerning statistic that underscores the need for policy change.
The debate to ban right on red is not just about traffic regulations; it’s a question of prioritizing human lives over convenience. With nearly 200 fatalities a year linked to this practice, the evidence is compelling.
Cities contemplating this ban are not just challenging a long-standing traffic norm but are taking a bold step towards safeguarding their residents. It’s time to reassess our road rules and make necessary changes for a safer future for all road users, whether they are drivers, cyclists or pedestrians.
Gary Brustin is a lifelong cyclist and a specialist in bicycle accident law. In fact, these are the only types of cases he accepts. If you’ve been injured in a collision, we urge you to contact Gary for a complimentary consultation.