Is this the Beginning of the End for Risky Right-Turns-on-Red?

Allowing drivers in the USA to turn-right-on-red increased cases of pedestrians and bicycles being struck by 43-123 percent, and many of these collisions have resulted in injuries.

A post today on Facebook, from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety [IIHS], pleasingly caught our attention when they confirmed the inescapable conclusion that research has shown that allowing drivers to turn right on red can put pedestrians at risk. There is a very blunt American expression involving ‘Sherlock’ that sums up the situation perfectly!

Whenever drivers who are turning right-on-red take their attention away from either of the two crosswalks they are typically about to cross — usually while looking for vehicles coming from the left — pedestrians are put in danger….. End of story! (Copyright image, 2018.)

Turning to the source for this news, the Washington Post, one finds that the practice of allowing drivers to turn right on red started as a result of the global fuel crisis in the 1970s. Since then, it has been allowed to continue, although seemingly just for the convenience of drivers. Apparently nobody has bothered to rescind the measure until now.

Distraction is often involved in right-on-red collisions and when not only the drivers but the pedestrians are focussed on the wrong thing, injuries become much more likely. When on foot, put your phone or game away and look all around! (Copyright image, 2018.)

Even when pedestrians get a green “cross now” signal, at intersections it is immensely important for them not only to look left and right for traffic (even on a one-way street… we have all seen people driving the wrong way!) but also to watch for drivers turning towards you from any street that’s behind your left shoulder. To quote an old mantra, it is no good lying on the road, perhaps with bad injuries, trying to tell the world that you had the right of way.

Washington DC is one of the American cities that pleasingly has embraced successful European approaches to its traffic safety, and as part of their Vision Zero program around 100 intersections in the District are set to lose right-on-red as a facility for drivers so that pedestrians and cyclists will be safer…. Well done DC!

It’s not just right-on-red that can cause danger… What about this bizarre case of “Don’t Stop at the Stop Sign”? (Copyright image, 2018.)

Interestingly, some places also appear to contradict stop-sign laws in their attempt to achieve the same goal as right-on-red at traffic lights.

The stop sign in the adjacent photograph, complete with its contradictory qualifier, is in Delaware. It, too, is at a crossroads so exactly the same danger can arise if a driver rolls through the intersection, as instructed by the sign, looking left for vehicles rather than at the crosswalk on the right. We would love to see the legislation that makes such a frankly absurd and contradictory situation possible… if any such actual legislation actually exists.

Photograph of two teenage girl pedestrians who were clearly startled by the fast approach of the black sedan, in which the driver had to brake hard to avoid hitting them. This undeniably is a common occurrence when drivers fail to stop correctly at the first crosswalk, as they enter the intersection at which they are turning right on red.
The girl pedestrians in this photo were clearly startled by the fast approach of the black sedan, in which the driver had to brake hard to avoid hitting them. This undeniably is a common occurrence when drivers fail to stop correctly before the **first** crosswalk, as they enter the intersection at which they are turning right on red. (Copyright image, 2014.)
Oh, great…. something else for drivers to look for when their key focus should be on the pedestrians and cyclists they are heading towards! (Copyright image, 2018.)

A conversation and exchange of e-mails later today with the good people at the IIHS revealed that one of their newsletters from 1980, which looked into the effect of right-turn-on-red, found a 57 percent increase in pedestrian crashes following the change to allow this technique to be used. Other studies from around the same time found that allowing right-turn-on-red increased pedestrians and bicycles being struck by 43-123 percent, depending on the study and the locations, and that many of these collisions resulted in injuries. Yet despite these extraordinary increases in collision rates and injuries, only now are some places starting to do anything about it!

Regrettably, the USA is the most consistently poor performer among ~30 developed nations in the world, in terms of the rates of road deaths. Vision Zero and the adoption of other global best practices by America undoubtedly will do a lot to reduce deaths and injuries.

At Advanced Drivers of America, we wish all the places that are developing Vision Zero and similar best-practise strategies and targets the very best of success in this New Year and beyond.


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Author: EddieWren

Eddie Wren is the CEO and Chief Instructor at Advanced Drivers of North America. His driver safety background is given at:

3 thoughts on “Is this the Beginning of the End for Risky Right-Turns-on-Red?”

  1. In Toronto Canada…
    The busiest street in Toronto is now allowing only right turns at every intersection…no left turns or through traffic allowed. This is in an effort to discourage vehicular traffic other than public transit

  2. Many delivery services have route guidance software in cities that will only recommend right turns, as left turns are more hazardous, and since ‘right on red’ is permitted. Often it is quicker to perform 3 right turns instead of 1 left turn. However, the right turn privilege is more often than not, abused, and performed incorrectly.
    If right on red was initiated during the fuel crisis as a fuel saving measure, surely it would have been more beneficial to study the blanket use of stop signs?, as most of them could be replaced with yield signs. This would return most drivers back into making legal turns, as making a full stop is often unnecessary, but also, often not done. All way stops can nearly all be replaced with roundabouts or traffic circles.

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