As urban communities grapple with mounting pedestrian casualties, the debate over “Right on Red” — a long-standing traffic provision — intensifies. The practice, which allows drivers to turn right at a red light after a stop, is now under scrutiny following several incidents involving pedestrians and cyclists.
The urgency of this issue was starkly illustrated in an event involving Sophee Langerman, who narrowly avoided serious injury when a vehicle executing a right on red collided with her bicycle in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. This incident occurred ironically as Langerman was en route to a bicycle safety rally. The aftermath left her unscathed but necessitated significant repairs to her bicycle. Langerman’s experience contributes to a growing dossier of evidence that challenges the wisdom of right on red as a traffic policy.
The practice of right on red was adopted widely across US cities as a fuel-saving measure during the 1970s energy crisis. However, it has persisted as a default traffic norm despite the change in the context that initially justified its implementation. Recently, several US cities have initiated steps to either restrict or ban this maneuver in the wake of rising pedestrian and cyclist injuries and fatalities.
Washington, D.C., has already set a precedent with its City Council approving a right-on-red ban scheduled to take effect in 2025. This legislative move has prompted other cities like Chicago, San Francisco, and Ann Arbor to consider similar measures. However, the propositions have been with opposition. Jay Beeber of the National Motorists Association contends that such bans would not necessarily enhance safety, pointing to a study that suggests the frequency of accidents involving right on red is minimal.
Despite Beeber’s assertions, safety advocates argue that the statistics underrepresented the accurate scale of the issue. They argue that collision reports often miscategorize incidents, failing to reflect the danger of right-on-red turns accurately. Advocacy for eliminating the right-on-red policy aligns with the broader safety-centric urban design philosophy emphasizing pedestrian and cyclist safety over vehicular convenience.
“Right on Red” Centers Debate on Safety and Traffic Flow
The United States stands out for its general allowance of right turns on red, contrasting with the practice in most other major countries. In urban environments, particularly, the idling of cars waiting for a green light is no longer seen as a critical energy concern but rather as a safety issue for more vulnerable road users.
The debate extends beyond safety. Critics of right-on-red bans cite potential negative impacts on traffic flow, including delays for commuter buses and delivery vehicles. Moreover, concerns have been raised about the socioeconomic implications of increased enforcement, with lower-income individuals potentially facing disproportionate penalties.
Despite the varied perspectives, the data is stark: a Governors Highway Safety Association report indicated that over 7,500 pedestrians were fatally struck by automobiles in 2022 alone, the highest number in over four decades. Furthermore, vehicles such as SUVs and pickup trucks, which have become more prevalent, are associated with a higher likelihood of pedestrian fatalities upon impact due to their mass and design.
The right-on-red issue exemplifies the complex intersections of policy, urban planning, and public safety. As the United States continues to contend with these questions, the experience of individuals like Langerman and Kasraie, who have been directly affected by the policy, provides a compelling narrative for reassessing the norms that govern our streets and the safety of those who traverse them on foot and bicycle.