Debate Intensifies Over US Right-On-Red Rules for Drivers

( – The USA is currently one of the few major countries in the world that allows drivers to continue through a red light in order to turn right, although this rule does not apply to all cities. Some areas, like the downtown zone of Ann Arbor in Michigan, have banned the maneuver already, while others such as Washington D.C. have made plans to forbid the practice in the near future. Right-turn-on-red bans are being seriously considered in some of America’s largest cities, including California’s Los Angeles and San Fransisco, and Denver, Colorado.

The debate around this common practice has intensified in recent months owing to recent increases in road deaths. While the number of fatalities has levelled off for occupants of cars, the number of pedestrian and cyclist deaths has continued to rise, prompting discussions around how to improve road safety for those not using a car.

Sophee Langerman, an environmental justice organizer and member of pro-bicycle activist group “Bike Grid Now”, was en route to a Chicago bicycle safety rally in June when she was hit by a car after she stepped onto a crosswalk. The light had turned red, but the driver continued to drive in order to turn right. Langerman, who sustained minor injuries, says that she wants the move banned as she does not believe that individuals should “have the option to decide for themselves” whether it is safe or not.

The executive director for policy at the National Motorists Association, Jay Beeber, disagrees with the premise. He argues that it is a ploy to put people off driving by making it more difficult and unpleasant, and cited a study by his organization that reviewed road fatalities between 2011 and 2019. The study found that in this time, drivers taking a right turn on a red light accounted for one pedestrian death and less than one bicyclist death every two years. Apart from the NMA study, there has been very little research into the phenomenon, with no nationwide studies into the number of injuries or deaths caused by turning right on red.

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