September 26, 2022

One More City Looks At Restricting Driver Right Turn on Red

Last month Viewpoint Vancouver covered the peculiar story of how vehicle drivers were able to legally turn right on a red light as an economic “saving” in the 1970’s. Prior to that most cities restricted vehicle drivers from turning right on red.


It was the 1973 Oil Crisis and the Energy Crisis of 1979 when fuel costs soared, and governments looked at how to reduce energy use internationally.  The National Energy Department perceived the 1 to 4.6 seconds of time saved by a driver in NOT stopping at a red light during as significant, and that normalized the Right Turn on Red System, also known inelegantly as RTOR.

For vehicles it was only the drivers of heavy trucks that made any fuel savings in being able to turn right at red lights. But remember too that vehicles were pretty inefficient back in the day, burning up to three times as much fuel as today.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found over 40 years ago that permitting these right turns by drivers increased driver crashes with pedestrians by  60 percent and increased driver crashes with cyclists  by 100 percent.

But that was not enough to stop right turns on red, except in New York City and Montreal. Quebec allowed right turns on reds everywhere else in that province.

Toronto public health showed that allowing right turns on red lights resulted in 13 percent of all serious injuries and deaths, or 1,300 severe crashes and death in a four year period.

It appears that Washington DC  (District of Columbia) is following in prohibiting a driver right turn on red which they hope to implement by 2025. This was a reaction from the DC Council after several cyclists died in intersections by vehicle drivers making a right turn. There will be a $150.00 fine for vehicle drivers turning right on red lights. Three cyclists died in one month in July in DC.

But there is good news for cyclists: Council is also considering an amendment to allow cyclists to make a rolling stop at a stop sign (known as an Idaho Stop as the first regulations to allow cyclists to do this was 40 years ago in Idaho). This is part of the Safer Intersections Act that the DC Council is following.

Idaho saw a reduction of 13 percent in crashes by prohibiting driver right turns on red; Delaware found a 23 percent reduction in serious crashes by stopping driver right turns.

But DC is after all a car city, and Council will be considering the implementation prohibiting driver right turns on red on a case by case basis instead of a universal application. Council also reviewed but could not finesse allowing cyclists to do rolling stops at traffic light intersections either, disallowing this maneuver.

DC Council is also considering speed reduction too, with the American Auto Association weighing in that the prohibition of driver right turns on red lights would add to driver frustration.

Of course there are no quotes from cycling and pedestrian advocates indicating the number of lives that will be saved by these two simple actions.



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    1. Post

      Ken, Actually the greenest thing to do is to not allow vehicular traffic period.
      But you are referring to leading pedestrian intervals that place the pedestrian first crossing with a green light for 5 to 7 seconds, then allow vehicular traffic. Vulnerable road users should always have priority, saves lives & serious injury, taxpayer dollars in a universal health care system. It just makes ethical and economic sense to prioritize people, not vehicle drivers.

      1. It’s the kind of issue that needs to be championed by HUB, The BC Cycling Coalition and a pedestrian advocacy group ( is there such an organization or is Sandy our only voice?). Even starting at the Regional MetroVancouver level and spreading to The Capital Regional District would get the Province’s attention.

  1. And revisit the terrible pedestrian countdown timers while they’re at it. Pedestrians do not follow them as intended.

    I say this as a pedestrian and cyclist.

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