Why "Right Turn On Red" in the first place? Should we abolish it?

Stuck In Traffic by Ed Kant

I had vowed to myself not to write anything else about red-light cameras and the regulations governing movement on red signals, but this morning’s Letter of the Day, by one Matt Steves, in the NDN Letters to the Editor finally got my internal fuse lit.

In his letter, Mr. Steves registers his fear that other drivers may not stop in time if he obeys the law. In doing so, he postulates that he will be rear-ended, or worse, or that the oncoming traffic may be so close that he gets broadsided whole making his turn. Further, Mr. Steves, suggests that we end this charade regarding safety in favor of funding by installing red arrow indicators at all right turns, thus requiring everyone to stop until they get a green indication. This latter suggestion is, in reality, a plea to go back to where we were before Right Turn On Red (RTOR) was introduced several decades ago and has become familiar to just about every driver in North America.

First, let’s set forth the law: Florida Statutes, Chapter 316.0765 sets forth the requirement that when lane direction signals (arrow faces) are present, no one shall enter the intersection in that lane when a red indication is showing. That seems to me to be pretty straight-forward and clear. If you have a red arrow, you must wait until it is replaced by a green arrow or a green ball indication.

OK, now we have the law out of the way. Let’s look at Mr. Steves’ other issues.

What happens if someone bumps you, or worse – slams into you, while you are stopped at an intersection, turn lane or not? Unless there are some extraordinary circumstances, it is my belief that the vehicle hitting the stopped vehicle will be found at fault. It is my understanding that the law presumes that the person following must control their vehicle so as not to cause injury or damage to others in front of them. This means to me that if I, for whatever, reason, fail to stop and hit the person in front of me, I am at fault. That may be small comfort to Mr. Steves, but he surely must realize that every time he gets in his car, that may be the one trip where he is either the one who is hit or the one who hits. Statistically, he has a better chance of being hit (or hitting someone else) within 25 miles of his home base that anywhere else. Crashes happen, many of them are accidents, but the majority of them are preventable.

Now let’s look at Mr. Steves' second scenario – he pulls out into the intersection and gets hit, broadside or sideswipe - by an oncoming vehicle. Sorry, Mr. Steves. But this time you are the one who is most probably at fault, again unless there are extraordinary circumstances. Failure to grant the right-of-way is one of the most common contributing factors in vehicle crashes. That failure has been shown to be based on individuals’ lack of perception of an acceptable gap in oncoming traffic. The longer the wait time, the shorter the acceptable gap becomes. At some point, that gap becomes so small, that a crash is inevitable if the side street vehicle insists on moving into the intersection.

So you see, Mr. Steves, you must not only be conscious of your driving habits and skills, but you must be aware of the driving habits and skills of all those other drivers around you. They, in turn, have to watch out for you.

Let’s examine why we have RTOR in the first place and what might occur if we were to actually consider abolishing it. For starters, RTOR was instituted as a way of decreasing emissions, decreasing fuel consumption, and decreasing overall travel time (a measure of roadway network effectiveness).

RTOR is based on the theory that if vehicles merely stop on a red signal before making a right turn, except where prohibited by law or by specific circumstances – a pedestrian crossing the street, for instance – then those vehicle that are stopped for only a few seconds while they assure themselves that it is safe to enter the intersection and complete the turn, will contribute fewer exhaust gases to the atmosphere, will achieve better overall fuel mileage and will have shorter overall trip travel times. These goals were, in fact, built into the federal legislation that powers most of our traffic laws nationwide.

Imagine if you will what the reaction of even the least ardent supporter of clean air and efficient roadway networks would say or do if we attempted to revoke this small, but significant, step toward a less environmentally hostile world. I say this from the perspective of one who has NEVER been thought of as an environmentalist even by those who do not know me well. Personally, I have little use for the strident “tree-hugger” conservationist or environmentalist. Perhaps it is my engineering training and mindset that prevents me from getting too worked up over how nature handles her own crises.

Well, that’s my reaction to Mr. Steves Letter of the Day. I have a couple of suggestions for Mr. Steves: pay close attention to traffic; stop at all red lights; and, if you must wait out the light at a RTOR, please get behind me and not in front of me. Thank you.

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Comments » 1

Myrtone writes:

"Let’s examine why we have RTOR in the first place and what might occur if we were to actually consider abolishing it. For starters, RTOR was instituted as a way of decreasing emissions, decreasing fuel consumption, and decreasing overall travel time (a measure of roadway network effectiveness).

RTOR is based on the theory that if vehicles merely stop on a red signal before making a right turn, except where prohibited by law or by specific circumstances – a pedestrian crossing the street, for instance – then those vehicle that are stopped for only a few seconds while they assure themselves that it is safe to enter the intersection and complete the turn, will contribute fewer exhaust gases to the atmosphere, will achieve better overall fuel mileage and will have shorter overall trip travel times. These goals were, in fact, built into the federal legislation that powers most of our traffic laws nationwide."

What I have read before is that the Eastern States adopted it to save fuel by which time the Western states had long had the rule, long before the oil crisis.
In most countries and areas, all road users must wait for a green when the traffic light is red. For example, consider the UK, which has fewer traffic lights and more roundabouts. Throughout the EU, no left or right turns are permitted on red light with a few exceptions, in Ireland and France, it is permitted if an amber arrow is flashing, rather than stopping before you turn, you slow down and prepare to give way. In Germany, a right turn on red (after stopping, just like in North America) is permitted if there is a fixed green arrow next to the red light.
In the Australian state of New South Wales (and the the Northern Territory), a left turn on red (we drive on the left) is permitted only where a sign permits it. Otherwise, red means wait for a green throughout Australia and New Zealand.

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