I met up with some friends from Athens, Georgia last year to watch a UGA game. I don’t care about AuburnSo it was fun watching them lose 42-10, especially because I got to hang out with old friends and some Auburn fans who really thought they had a chance this year. When the game is over, it’s go time. When I got back to my car I had to cross the street and when the walk signal came on I did just that, almost ending up in the hospital.
When I was already in the crosswalk, the driver of the Lincoln Navigator decided it was a good time to turn right and came terrifyingly close to running me over. Of course he decided it was my fault because I was a bystander in his way. How dare I cross the road? The road is intended for cars. Fortunately he didn’t run me over, but unfortunately things like this happen all the time, as anyone who has walked anywhere can attest. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been nearly hit by drivers turning right on a red light, and many of them didn’t even bother to stop at the intersection before proceeding.
According to another Short company articlesExperiences like mine are all too common, as are experiences where things go wrong for pedestrians or cyclists. It’s not just for impatient drivers driving through intersections without regard for any pedestrians who may be legally crossing the road. This is because, even for responsible drivers, it is difficult to observe traffic coming from the left while simultaneously checking for pedestrians on the right. As David Zipper, author of the Fast Company article, says, “Cognitive overload is inevitable.”
With pedestrian and bicyclist deaths at their highest levels in 40 years, Zipper says it’s time to ban right turns on red lights. Frankly, I agree with him. If this is not necessarily the case, at least prohibit it in areas where there is a reasonable possibility that a pedestrian will use the crosswalk. Sure, it’s an inconvenience for drivers, but it’s even harder to deal with because it’s even more of an inconvenience for pedestrians and cyclists who end up injured or killed in the hospital.
This does not mean that the ability to turn right at a red light has been a legal requirement in the country since the introduction of cars on the road. As Zipper points out, this was virtually unheard of in the US until the oil crisis. Believing that red rights would reduce gas consumption, the federal government aggressively pressured states to make the law the standard. States that did not comply were excluded from federal energy funding, and the last state finally capitulated in 1980.
But while Zipper says it’s unclear how much fuel savings legalizing right-on-red has achieved, we do know that it almost immediately made our roads less safe. He points to a 1982 study that found a significant increase in the number of pedestrians and bicyclists hit by drivers. In Ohio, for example, this number increased to 57% for pedestrians and 80% for bicyclists. Wisconsin was even worse, with a 102 percent increase in pedestrian collisions and a 72 percent increase in bicyclist collisions. Improving air quality is important, but, especially given the cleanliness of modern engines, is saving a little fuel by crossing an intersection really worth the risk of seeing a red light for someone not in the car?
Fortunately, more and more cities are coming to terms with the danger that the red right poses to others. From Cambridge, Massachusetts to Washington, DC, Ann Arbor, Michigan and Seattle, right turns are now banned at red lights after New York City set a precedent years ago.
Right-on-red advocates will argue that this not only wastes gas, it also increases traffic congestion. However, in a recent study, the Institute of Transportation Engineers found that banning right-on-red driving made intersections safer and that the policy change had only “a minor impact on traffic operations.” And personally, I’m okay with traffic slowing down a bit if it means drivers send fewer people to the hospital. Many others would disagree, but swearing in red is the exception, not the rule.
Also, the main article contains more than I can list here Head over to Fast Company to read the whole thing.