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Cities Across the U.S. Are Banning Right Turn on Red – Is Texas Next?

A "no turn on red" sign in between two traffic signals displaying red lights.

Could this be the beginning of the end of going right on red?

Most states, including Texas, permit drivers to execute right turns at signaled intersections in the absence of oncoming traffic. But an escalating number of fatal pedestrian accidents is forcing communities to consider measures to improve safety - including banning right turns on red.

A report from the Governors Highway Safety Association indicates that changing times and shifts in vehicle preferences have heightened the risk for pedestrians in general but especially in intersections that allow right turns on red lights (RTOR). Specifically, the popularity of large trucks and SUVs poses visibility challenges for drivers, impeding their ability to observe the immediate road ahead. In intersection scenarios, drivers intending to make a right turn may prioritize scanning for a gap in traffic, potentially overlooking pedestrians entering the crosswalk.

Established RTOR bans

Several major cities, including New York City, Ann Arbor, MI, and Cambridge, MA (both recognized as college towns with substantial pedestrian activity), have implemented prohibitions on right turns at red lights. Additionally, Washington, D.C. is set to discontinue the practice of RTOR by the year 2025.

In Texas, the concept is gaining momentum, with a notable example in the eastern part of the state. Drivers are prohibited from making right turns at red traffic lights at the intersection of Highway 64 and West Loop 323 in Tyler.

This prompts the question of whether additional intersections might adopt similar restrictions on RTOR. Safety advocates are encouraging states and local transportation planners to reassess this well-established practice.

RTOR established

Right-on-red became law during the U.S. oil crisis in the 1970s. The federal government ordered states to loosen road rules to allow for right turns at red lights to save fuel. A sharp rise in fatal car accidents followed. In 1984, a U.S. study found that car accidents increased by 23 percent and pedestrian accidents increased by 60 percent at intersections, allowing right-on-red turns, the AP reports.

The startling results were explained away at the time by officials who suggested crash rates shot up because drivers were still adjusting to the change. There are too few fatal pedestrian accidents due to right turns at red lights to justify banning the time- and fuel-saving maneuver.

This argument gained support in the 1990s when the U.S. Department of Transportation conducted a study that determined only 0.2 percent of all fatal traffic accidents involve a right-turn-on-red intersection. While technically accurate, this cherry-picked statistic conceals the real danger posed by RTOR intersections.

Meanwhile, a multi-year study in San Francisco found that while ROTR-involved accidents are rare compared to all other types of traffic accidents, right-on-red turns were a factor in 20 percent of the city's fatal pedestrian and bicycle crashes.

Understanding the risks of RTOR

Right turns on red can be convenient for drivers, but they also present a set of potential dangers, particularly when it comes to pedestrian safety. Here's why right turns on red can lead to pedestrian accidents and why drivers must prioritize pedestrian safety:

  • Limited visibility: When making a right turn on red, drivers often focus on checking for oncoming traffic from the left. This limited focus may cause them to overlook pedestrians approaching from the right or those already in the crosswalk.
  • Pedestrian right of way: Pedestrians generally have the right of way when crossing at an intersection or designated crosswalk. Drivers must yield to pedestrians who are legally crossing the road, even when making a right turn on red.
  • Misjudgment of speed and distance: Drivers may misjudge the speed and distance of pedestrians, especially if they are in a hurry to complete their turn. This can result in drivers making turns too closely in front of pedestrians, increasing the risk of collisions.
  • Distractions: In an era of increased distraction from smartphones and other devices, drivers may not be fully attentive to their surroundings. Distracted driving can cause drivers to overlook pedestrians, leading to collisions.
  • Reduced reaction time: When making a right turn on red, drivers must simultaneously scan for traffic and pedestrians. Splitting attention between these tasks can increase the driver's reaction time when a pedestrian suddenly appears in their path.
  • Vulnerability of pedestrians: Pedestrians are particularly vulnerable in traffic situations, as they lack the protection of a vehicle. Collisions between vehicles and pedestrians can result in severe injuries or fatalities for those on foot.

Hitting a pedestrian while making a right turn on red can lead to legal consequences for the driver, including fines, license suspension, or even criminal charges if negligence is proven. Drivers must be cautious and prioritize pedestrian safety when making these turns. It is essential to yield the right of way to pedestrians, exercise patience, and remain fully attentive to the surroundings to prevent accidents and ensure the safety of all road users.

Contact an East Texas pedestrian accident lawyer

RTOR bans can't prevent all fatal pedestrian accidents, but the change may help reduce crashes and save lives. If you were injured in a Henderson County, TX intersection accident or hit by a car anywhere in East Texas, contact Weinstein Law for a free case evaluation. From our office in Athens, TX, a member of our team can take in the details of what happened, answer your questions, and explain your potential legal options. There is no obligation to hire, just legal information you can trust.

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