Traffic laws are changing in the nation’s capital to make it illegal to turn right at red lights. Why is DC making this change to the traffic laws?
Driving around a busy city can be a frustrating and daunting task. The one thing that could make this even more troublesome is to either be involved in an accident or slowed down because of one. Being in an accident is the worse of the two, of course, but could cities and states make things safer by stopping some of the traffic movements that leave judgment up to drivers?
DC Residents Will Have Some Time to Get Used to the Idea
At the start of 2025, Washington, D.C., will eliminate the law that allows drivers the right to turn right on red. These turns are dangerous to pedestrians and divers that are watching for traffic to open and then find a pedestrian in the way. In a congested city with many residents and annual tourists, it can be extremely difficult to avoid pedestrians and safely make a right turn while the light is red. This is what DC is eliminating in 2025.
Have We Always Been Able to Turn Right at Red Lights?
No, the law to allow this movement on roads came into effect late in the 1970s. At that time, there were far fewer drivers on the road, fewer driving distractions, and fewer accidents from these turns. In recent years, DC has seen an uptick in traffic fatalities and injuries related to accidents at these lights. Most recently, three cyclists were killed in accidents in Jul;, all three had to do with the danger of turning right while the traffic light is red. The response to this problem is to stop allowing it to occur.
DC Isn’t the Only City Worried About this Problem
Approval for the ban on right turns during red lights was approved on October 5 for the Washington, D.C., area. On the same day, Ann Arbor, Michigan, approved a ban on these same right turns at 50 downtown intersections. Could this be the beginning of the end of this turning maneuver? Will there be signs at the 50 intersections in Ann Arbor? What about DC, will there be signs, or will it become a well-known fact that turning right on red is no longer legal in this major city?
Is this Change for Drivers or Pedestrians?
The major reason to make this change is to protect pedestrians. It will, of course, protect cyclists and those on scooters as well, but when a driver approaches a red light and intends to turn right, the last thing they might look for are pedestrians in the crosswalk. Although these pedestrians have the right of way in this space, it’s hard to argue with the damage that can be done when a person is struck by a car and injured in the process. This new law could protect many walkers and bikers in the DC area.
Could This Change Impact Some U-Turn Areas?
Some cities offer legal U-turns, and these turns, at traffic lights. Unfortunately, at some of these intersections, the drivers in the right lane at an adjacent street can have a red light but no guidance that tells them they can’t turn on that light. This can create a troublesome situation, even though guidance will dictate which driver has the right of way. Eliminating right turns on red lights could create a much safer situation for U-turns, which might be a huge improvement in the traffic laws and what we see now.
Should We Follow the Swedish Example?
In the 1990s, Sweden adopted the goal to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries while changing the safe, healthy, and improved mobility for its residents. This initiative is called the Vision Zero plan and works to create a safer environment. This country is often well-known for creating more safety for drivers, and it might be a great way for our country to follow the lead of a country that’s already accomplishing a strong goal of offering safer driving on the road. Removing the ability to turn right on red can help this move forward.
Should There Be More Bike Lanes in Urban Environments?
While it certainly takes millions of dollars and changes to create these narrow bike lanes, adding more of them could help to make some of these busy streets safer. It’s difficult enough for drivers to share the road with cyclists and slow-moving motor scooters where there aren’t any bike lanes. At least with a bike lane, cyclists have a designated area where they should expect to ride safely and enjoy their time while exercising on the road. Cars and trucks are given priority on public roads, as they should, but that doesn’t change the danger to pedestrians.
The Adoption of Right Turns at Red Lights Took Five Years
The Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 moved to allow all U.S. states and DC to adopt this new traffic law. Until that time, most of the states where it was legal to turn right on red were in the western part of the country. Some of these states have wide open spaces and limited populations, making it much easier for drivers to keep going. Some of the New England states, specifically Massachusetts and New York, were the last to adopt this law. Massachusetts didn’t pass this law until 1980.
Hopefully, There Will be Signs?
Most drivers in the United States assume it’s legal to make a right turn at red lights unless a sign indicates that’s not the case. Hopefully, the DC area will place signs throughout the city to inform drivers that these turns are illegal beginning in 2025. As the nation’s capital city, Washington, D.C., is visited by millions of tourists that might not be aware of the traffic laws unless signs are posted to inform them not to make a right turn on red.
Do you know of some locations where this change in traffic laws could be useful? Maybe it’s time to get your local government to consider changing the laws at some intersections.
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