Rethinking Road Safety: The Urgent Case for Banning Right-On-Red Turns

Rethinking Road Safety: The Urgent Case for Banning Right-On-Red Turns

Imagine a common scenario in urban neighborhoods: a driver approaches an intersection, planning to turn right against a red light. This maneuver, known as “right-on-red,” seems like a convenience at first glance. However, it harbors unseen dangers, particularly for pedestrians and cyclists.

The Perils at Crosswalks

As the driver focuses on finding a gap in the oncoming traffic, a pedestrian, rightly following a green “Walk” sign, steps off the curb. In an instant, a potential tragedy is set in motion. This situation exemplifies the inherent risk in the right-on-red policy. It creates cognitive overload for drivers, who must monitor traffic from multiple directions, often neglecting pedestrians and cyclists who assume they have the right of way.

Changing Perspectives in Urban Safety

Thankfully, U.S. cities are starting to recognize the pitfalls of right-on-red. The policy, once adopted to conserve gas during the 1970s oil crisis, now stands out as a contributor to the rise in pedestrian and cyclist fatalities. Municipalities are beginning to implement no-turn-on-red policies, a trend that aligns with increasing awareness of road safety and urban design.

The Historical Context and Its Modern Repercussions

It’s crucial to understand that right-on-red was not always a norm. It emerged as a federal mandate during the oil crisis, with the government hoping to reduce fuel consumption due to idling vehicles. However, this policy led to a significant increase in accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists. Modern studies further reveal that drivers making a right turn on red often focus more on merging with the traffic than on potential crosswalk users.

Europe’s Approach and Lessons to Learn

Contrasting with the North American stance, most European countries regard right-on-red as illegal, except at designated intersections. This approach has resulted in a more consistent and safer environment for all road users. It’s time for North America to take cues from these practices, considering the changing dynamics of urban transportation and the need for inclusive road safety.

The Road Forward

The movement against right-on-red is gaining momentum, with cities like Cambridge, Seattle, and Ann Arbor leading the way. These changes, though resisted by some, offer substantial safety benefits with minimal impact on traffic flow. The resistance often stems from habit rather than necessity, as the original rationale for right-on-red (fuel conservation) has long since become irrelevant.


The ban on right-on-red is more than just a traffic rule; it’s a step towards rethinking urban mobility and prioritizing the safety of all road users. It’s a change that aligns with modern urban planning and public safety objectives. As cities strive to achieve their Vision Zero goals, eliminating right-on-red turns could be a crucial and effective measure. It’s time to let go of outdated policies and embrace a safer, more pedestrian-friendly urban future.