Drivers in West Virginia and around the country have been able to make right turns at most red lights since the 1970s. The federal government encouraged states to revise their motor vehicle codes to allow right turns at red lights as part of a national effort to save fuel. Allowing drivers to turn right at red lights keeps traffic moving and eases congestion at busy intersections, and it also improves fuel economy and air quality.
Turning right at red lights is permitted at most intersections in the United States, but that may soon change. Officials in several American cities are considering right-on-red bans, and turning right at a red light will become a violation in Washington, D.C. in 2025. Lawmakers are mulling right-on-red bans because pedestrian and cyclist deaths have soared in recent years, but there is little evidence to suggest that these proposed bans will improve road safety.
In 1994, Congress asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to study accidents involving drivers who make right turns at red lights. NHTSA officials checked data gathered over four years in Maryland, Indiana and Missouri and three years’ worth of accident data from Illinois. The records revealed that only four road users had died in these car accidents. When the National Motorists Association looked at California accident data gathered between 2011 and 2019, they found that right-on-red accidents in the Golden State kill about one pedestrian every two years.
Lawmakers expected to act
Right-on-red bans are being considered in many American cities because pedestrian and cyclist deaths are rising and lawmakers are under pressure to take action. The data suggests that clamping down on dangerous behavior like impaired or distracted driving would do more to improve road safety than banning right turns at red lights.