Right turn on red laws seemed like a good idea at the time. Why not save a little gasoline by letting cars go instead of waiting for the light to turn?
When I drive and take advantage of the option, I sometimes appreciate it. But at other times, it makes me anxious, knowing there are cars behind me that want me to turn even though I can't see well enough or can't judge the speed of an on-coming car. It would just be simpler to have to wait for every red light than judge when it's safe to proceed. As we've all seen, there are all too many cars that use it as an opportunity to roll through a red light or race an on-coming car that has the right of way.
I had already come to a soft conclusion that we'd be better off without right on red, and then I read this case against it by Sam Rockwell from StreetsMN, via MinnPost. Now I'm even more sure we should do away with it.
It's not just that pedestrians and bicyclists get hit by turning drivers who don't yield the right of way:
Even when someone on foot or a cyclist is not hit by right-turning vehicles...right turning vehicles still do a significant disservice to vulnerable users. Right-turning vehicles often pull into the crosswalk so that the driver of the vehicle can actually see oncoming car traffic. As a result, people crossing the intersection on foot lose that small stretch of street that is supposed to be temporarily theirs. That person must then walk around the front or the back of the imposing vehicle.Right on red does save a bit of fuel, but Rockwell makes this excellent point:
If the person walks in front of the vehicle, he or she must be on guard in case the vehicle attempts to leap into traffic. If the person passes behind the vehicle, he or she must weave between multiple vehicles, any of which could move. Therefore, right turns on red mean that people can never walk across the street, even when they have the right of way, as if they own the space. People on foot must be constantly aware of their vulnerability, can never go on a walk and let their mind wander.
Shouldn’t pedestrians – people – be able to simply be in their community without wearing “light colors” and “retro-reflective materials,” as the State of Minnesota suggests?
The Federal Highway Administration estimated that right turns on red would save between 1 and 4.6 seconds for each driver at a red light.Let's get rid of right turn on red.
While turning right on red does in fact save fuel for car drivers, the Massachusetts DOT points out that “[t]he best way to reduce fuel use is to drive less.” With 65% of trips under a mile in the U.S. made by car, improving the experience of being a pedestrian or biker, as well as improving actual safety, could result in significant fuel savings by encouraging people to walk and bike more.