It’s Time to Ban “Right Turn on Red”

The dangerous maneuver is allowed thanks to a flawed idea about emissions from the 1970s. We don’t need it.

Abigail Weinberg reporting at Mother Jones:

It’s an obsolete relic of the 1970s oil crisis. It’s dangerous to pedestrians. And, if you drive a car in the United States, you likely do it every day. It’s time to get rid of right-turn-on-red. […] sometimes drivers fail to yield to pedestrians who have the right of way in the intersection. The data on right-turn-on-red crashes might be scarce, but the existing studies suggest that these types of collisions—while rare—frequently involve a pedestrian or cyclist. Cars, instead of hitting other cars, often hit humans. Now, there’s a growing movement for cities to do away with the traffic law altogether.

Yeah, it’s the pedestrians and cyclists who pay the price.

So, why do US cities allow RTOR in the first place? Blame the oil crisis.

A provision of the 1975 Energy Policy and Conservation Act said that, in order for states to receive federal assistance for mandated conservation programs, they had to enact “a traffic law or regulation which, to the maximum extent practicable consistent with safety, permits the operator of a motor vehicle to turn such vehicle right at a red stop light after stopping.” The reasoning was that RTOR would lower emissions by decreasing the amount of time that drivers spent idling at red lights.

As is so often the case, RTOR didn’t come about organically from some forward-thinking city planner having a great idea that was implemented in one city first and eventually caught on across this great nation. No, the Federal Government had to strong-arm states and cities into implementing RTOR.

But transportation engineer Bill Schultheiss tells me that RTOR isn’t as efficient as 1970s lawmakers would have you believe. “The savings in emissions and travel times has always been wildly overstated because it never assessed the reality that most of these drivers are immediately stopped at a signal on the cross street or stuck in traffic in urban areas,” he said in an email. “The total trip of the user was never part of the assessment.”

So you see, even putting aside the fact that a growing number of cars today are electric and/or hybrid vehicles, the savings and advantages of RTOR were never really what lawmakers suggested.

Let’s end it.

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