There weren’t as many drivers, cyclists, walkers, scooters, ad motorcycles on the road in the 1970s. Now, DC is making it illegal to turn right on red.
The late 1970s is when we saw the “Right on Red” law come into effect and be part of the rules of the road for every area of the country. Now, Washington, D.C., is repealing this right and making it illegal for motorists to make this turn when facing a red light. Before proceeding, drivers will need a green light.
As Always, We Live in a Reactionary Society
Why would the capital city of the country take away the turning on a red light? This is a response to an increased number of traffic fatalities throughout the city. Most recently, three cyclists were killed in accidents with motor vehicles in July, which was devastating for the city and the families of these cyclists. The roads have become more congested, and the reaction to these fatalities is to take away the turning on red that is practiced across the country. Is it possible we might see the end of this law going forward?
Washington, D.C., is a Large City With Many Visitors Every Year
Tourists from all over the world visit America’s capital city every year. These tourists want to feel safe while in this city. Many drivers work and live in the DC area and are trying to get to different places in the city, most likely to where they work. The last thing drivers want to deal with is a crowd of tourists in the way. This makes for a tough situation for all and a strong reason to repeal the right turn on red in the DC area.
Why is Turning Right on Red Problematic?
While a vehicle is stopped at a traffic light, the driver watches the oncoming traffic on the cross street. In a large city like Washington, D.C., pedestrians and cyclists might cross in front of cars in the right lane that wants to turn right. Instead of paying attention to the people walking and on bikes, drivers are looking at the cars in the cross street to figure out when they can safely turn right onto the road. This can create a dangerous situation for pedestrians and cyclists who are crossing in the crosswalk while the sign to do so is lit.
A Broad Bundle of Safety in this Movement
A right turn on red in DC isn’t the only dangerous part of driving, walking, and biking in this city. Because there are other initiatives that need to be put in place, the city is adopting the Safer Streets Amendment Act of 2022. This act was passed by the District of Columbia’s council in early October to offer a bundle of safety measures that will work toward eliminating traffic fatalities involving cyclists and pedestrians in the city. This is part of the Vision Zero initiative, which works toward zero fatalities on these roads.
Washington, D.C., Isn’t the Only Place This Change is Happening
You might think other large cities, such as New York City, Los Angeles, or Chicago, would follow the same path as the capital city, but that’s not the case. The small city of Ann Arbor, Michigan, adopted the same initiatives for 50 downtown intersections on the same day as Washington, D.C. This Michigan city is home to the University of Michigan and can be a busy place for some pedestrians and cyclists. These 50 intersections will be marked with signs to ensure motorists know they cannot legally turn right while the light is red.
When Will All Red Light Rights be Illegal in DC
Making a right turn on red in DC will be banned beginning n 2025. This movement could lead to a nationwide reversal of the law that’s been in place for more than 40 years. Because of the increased traffic levels, especially in large cities, such a change could be necessary. Times have changed, and we see more people on and near the streets than ever before. It’s time to ensure they stay safe and take away one of the ways that drivers can create an unsafe environment on the road.
Vision Zero isn’t New, Just New to the United States
Sweden has worked to create safer roads and work toward eliminating all traffic fatalities and severe injuries for many years. Vision zero originated in Sweden in the 1990s as a strategy to improve safety on the road. Adopting some of the initiatives in this network makes a lot of sense, especially for large cities. The safer the roads can be for all involved, the better we can feel about walking, biking, or driving from one place to another.
Drivers Got Back on the Roads, but Cyclists Didn’t Leave
During the COVID-19 pandemic, there were fewer drivers on the roads but more cyclists and pedestrians. We were told taking a walk or riding a bike was a great individual activity, and many Americans took advantage of this activity while cars were parked at home. In 2021, after the pandemic, we saw a spike in highway death rates of 10.5 percent. This increase was compared to the 2011 numbers, not the pandemic-stricken year of 2020. This increase comes mostly from cars hitting pedestrians and cyclists on the road.
Eliminating Right Turns on Red is Just the Beginning
It’s commendable that DC is making turning right on red illegal, but that’s just the start. Think about the number of ways we’re distracted while driving. Finding ways to eliminate distracted driving would go a much longer way to eliminating fatalities out on the road. This could be done through education, stricter regulations regarding cell phone use in cars, and changing the way some delivery apps communicate with drivers.
Will we see the right turn on red in DC turn into a nationwide ban on this traffic activity? It’s possible and entirely likely. Turning right at a red light is dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists and doesn’t benefit drivers as much as it once did.
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