In Pennsylvania and many other states, turning right on a red light is allowed, although the safety implications have become a focal point due to the increasing number of bicycle and pedestrian accidents involving vehicles turning right on red lights. The longstanding practice has its roots in the energy crisis of the 1970s. As cities deal with the balance between safe streets and convenience, the debate on whether to continue this traffic rule increases.
A growing trend
A recent accident took place in Chicago, where a vehicle struck and injured a woman walking her bicycle at a red light. The motorist turned right at the red light and did not see the woman. The accident has sparked discussion on whether the ability to turn during a red light contributes to the recent rise in cyclist and pedestrian accidents.
Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Ann Arbor are considering or have already implemented bans on turning right at red lights. More states are considering the rise in accidents and are reevaluating this rule. New York City has prohibited right turns on red for many years.
Support for right-on-red bans
Advocates of banning the traffic rule argue that letting drivers make right turns on red poses safety risks due in part to increased distractions and that restricting the driving practice can decrease the number of personal injury accidents. Advocates also state that official traffic accident statistics often mislabel the cause of crashes, understating the dangers of right turns on red and necessitating stricter regulations.
Arguments against banning right turns on red
Some driver advocate groups argue against blanket bans, such as a city- or state-wide rule against right on red, saying that they may not have much of an impact on safety and may become part of a broader agenda against driving in general. A study cited by the National Motorists Association indicates that right-on-red accidents contribute to a relatively small number of cyclists and pedestrian deaths, which does not support the need for blanket bans.
The rise in pedestrian accidents and the ongoing debate show a need for additional studies and policies. Communities can focus on solutions that prioritize safety without overly impacting commuters.