For decades, it has been legal to turn right at a red light in Washington and virtually anywhere else you could go in the United States. The rule since the ’80s has been that you treat it as you would a stop sign: As long as you come to a complete stop and wait for the full three seconds as required by law, you can legally go and not have to wait for the light to turn green. But this rule of the road has been increasingly called into question as various cities scrutinize the safety of this rule and decide whether it should be banned altogether.
A rule that’s hard to give up
While numerous activists have been highly vocal about the injuries and wrongful death caused by the law, the vast majority of cities in the United States have integrated it into their infrastructure so strongly and for so long that policymakers are hesitant to make a change.
Some cities are starting to take real action, and the hope is that others will follow suit. Notably, in Washington, D.C., their city council approved a right-on-red ban. Ann Arbor, Michigan, has taken the same stance with their own ban now in place as well.
More bans like these are likely to crop up first in big cities, where pedestrians run the greatest risk of injury or death. Proponents of the bans say that it shouldn’t be up to the driver whether or not they believe they can safely make a right turn while the traffic light is red.
How dangerous is it?
Those who oppose the bans discredit the claims that roads will become as safe as purported once the right-on-red rule has been eliminated. These opponents say that the risk to pedestrians and cyclists is overblown.
The ability to make a right-hand turn at a red light is a rule of the road that many people feel strongly about one way or the other, with a flurry of bans likely on the horizon. There are avid supporters on either side, with some passionately believing that it’s an unnecessary risk for cyclists and pedestrians. Others point to statistics that suggest the right-on-red rule isn’t as hazardous as opponents have made it out to be.