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!
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.
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!
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.
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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