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Some States Rethink Right On Red Amid Rising Pedestrian Deaths

As states have seen traffic fatalities and pedestrian deaths climb in recent years, many jurisdictions are reconsidering right turns on red, Stateline reports. Safety advocates are urging state and municipal transportation planners to reconsider a custom that is deeply ingrained in driving. Right on red remains the law of the land in most of the U.S., unless it is prohibited by signage. "It's an easy change to make that should be made in more places," said Mike McGinn, a former Seattle mayor and executive director of America Walks, an advocacy organization for walkable communities. The practice is such a habit for most drivers that they don’t even stop or look to the right as they approach signaled intersections, McGinn said. Pedestrians face particular risk at intersections where drivers creep into the crosswalk. “The person turning right is probably looking left at the traffic that might be coming,” McGinn said. “And they’re not looking at the crosswalk where there might be a pedestrian or bicyclist. So, you’re really putting the pedestrian or bicyclist in a bad spot. They’ve got a walk signal, or they have a green light, and they think it's safe to go."

However, it could be challenging for states to encourage change. It's difficult to switch driving habits, the restrictions may not be helpful in rural areas or at some quieter intersections, new signage is expensive, and slowing traffic could increase emissions, fuel consumption, and travel time for drivers. Despite normalized right on red, pedestrian deaths continue to rise. An analysis by the Governors Highway Safety Association found that in the U.S., deaths of people killed by cars while walking rose an estimated 18% between 2019 and 2022. An estimated 7,485 pedestrians were struck and killed by drivers in 2021, the most recent of statistics available. It was the largest number in four decades. Deaths spiked for several reasons, one of which is that drivers were more likely to drive impaired or distracted. During the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, drivers sped up with fewer cars on the road, but they never slowed down through the next couple of years, a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found. Safety studies remain limited because right on red is so widespread. Studies that are emerging are beginning to show that limiting the practice can reduce crashes and close calls and that drivers accommodate the prohibition.


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