In many states, including California, motorists have the legal privilege to turn right when the traffic light is red. While this provides convenience by avoiding unnecessary waits at red lights, both advantages and disadvantages are associated with this practice.
Turning right and pedestrians
One common scenario involves collisions between motorists making right turns on red lights and pedestrians or bicyclists. Fortunately, in most cases, vehicles slowing down or stopping before turning right means they are not traveling at high speeds. While serious personal injury is less likely, the sustained injuries and property damage argue against the continuation of the practice.
Arguments related to right turns
When drivers turn right on a red light, they rely on their own judgment. Critics argue that drivers’ judgments may be untrustworthy, especially considering distractions and the rush to reach their destination. This road blindness could lead to accidents, particularly involving pedestrians.
On the flip side, proponents of being able to turn right on red point to studies showing that over an eight-year period in one state, fatalities resulting from accidents during right turns on red lights averaged approximately one every two years. They question the necessity of making drivers endure red lights when the risks seem relatively minimal.
One argument that those who are for the ability to turn right on red argue is the energy efficiency question. They feel that it is a waste of gas to have millions of cars across the country idling at a stoplight. When the laws allowing right-hand turns on red were first enacted, energy conservation was one of the primary considerations.
Driving is a privilege, and traffic laws aim to protect both drivers and pedestrians. The ongoing debate about the safety of turning right on red lights will likely continue as lawmakers and stakeholders weigh the convenience against the potential risks associated with this traffic practice.