Many years ago, when the seat belt law was fist enacted, drivers complained bitterly about getting tickets for not buckling up. Their argument was that we never had to do it before and we need time to get into a new habit. The same argument surfaced when NY City was included in stopping for school buses. Again, drivers said we never had to do it before and we need time to get into a new habit. However, when the right-turn-on-red law was passed, drivers didn’t need any time to get used to going through red lights. They were real happy to do so.
During the oil and energy crises of the 1970s, the U.S. federal government encouraged jurisdictions to allow right-turns-on-red (RTOR) as a fuel saving measure. The Federal Highway Administration estimated that right-turns-on-red would save between 1 and 4.6 seconds of idling for each driver at a red light.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) allowing RTOR is dangerous especially for pedestrians and bicyclists. Studies conducted after states first adopted RTOR laws found that allowing RTOR increased pedestrian and bicyclist collisions at intersections by 43-123 percent. An analysis of intersection crashes in four states found that RTOR crashes frequently involved pedestrians and bicyclists, and 93 percent of these crashes resulted in injuries to the pedestrians and bicyclists. While 44 percent of fatal RTOR crashes involved a pedestrian, 10 percent involved a bicyclist.
33 percent of fatal RTOR crashes involved two vehicles, so the risk for drivers is also increased. A survey by walkinginfo.org. found that at locations where RTOR is allowed, 56.9 percent of drivers do not come to a complete stop before turning on red. That’s no surprise since many drivers treat RTOR as the same as making a right turn from a stop sign. However, there is a big difference. Do you know the elements that are necessary to be able to make a RTOR? Here they are and keep in mind we’re talking about State Law:
- You can make a RTOR everywhere in NY State except in NY City.
- You can make a RTOR if there is no sign prohibiting it.
- You can make a RTOR provided you make a FULL stop first.
- You can make a RTOR provided there is no vehicular or pedestrian traffic in SIGHT.
Element #4 is the big difference. At stop signs, you’re allowed to make the right turn even if traffic is approaching, if you feel you have enough time to make the turn safely. Not so with the RTOR. If you see traffic and think you can turn safely, YOU MAY NOT MAKE THE TURN. The reasoning for such a rule is understandable; a stop sign will never turn green for you so you do have to make a judgment call – but the traffic light will turn green so there is no pressure to make the turn while it’s red.
Another element of State Law is that making a RTOR is OPTIONAL, not mandatory. All the elements may be in place, but if you want to wait for the green you may do so…even if the ignorant horn blowers behind you are telling you to go. They are ignorant because they don’t know the law. But, now you do.
NHTSA says there are a relatively small number of deaths and injuries each year caused by turn-on-red crashes. These represent a very small percentage of all crashes, deaths, and injuries. The problem with percentages is that if you’re the one involved in a crash, for you it represent 100 percent.
Insufficient data exist to analyze the left turn on red (LTOR). Oh, you didn’t know you could make a LTOR? Well, you can, if both streets, the one you’re on and the one you’re turning into are ONE-WAY STREETS. Of course, all the other elements cited above need to be in place.
This blog prompted some questions:
Question 1- Where is it legal to make a left-turn-on-red?
Question 2- Where is it illegal to make a left-turn-on-red?
Question 3- Is it ever legal to make a left-turn-on-red from a two-way street?
Answer 1– 44 states and Puerto Rico allow left turns on red only if both the origin and destination streets are one way
Answer 2– Six states and Washington D.C. ban left turns on red: South Dakota* Connecticut Maine Missouri New Hampshire North Carolina
*South Dakota does permit local municipalities to allow left turns on red.
NOTE: New York City prohibits both right and left turns on red, unless a sign indicates otherwise.
Answer 3– Yes! Four states do allow left turns on red onto a one-way street even from a two-way street. Those states are: Idaho Michigan Oregon Washington state