When Did Right Turn on Red Become Universal?

I drove in Texas, Georgia, Virginia, Washington, DC, and Oklahoma before I was 21.

English: A rare but beautiful sight: a turn on...

A rare sight: a turn on red sign in NYC! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In every state I had to learn whether this was a state where you could turn right on red or not.

I remember a friend telling me she talked her way out of a ticket when she explained to the cop who stopped her that in her home state you could turn right on red after stopping.

I’ve never talked my way out of a ticket.

Well, there was that once when I spaced out and turned left on red and the cop let me go when I truly and innocently said I didn’t know why I’d done it.

He said,

“I don’t know either.

You were stopped at the light and then just suddenly turned into the intersection and went through.

Well, there was no traffic, so, this time I’m going to let you go with a warning.

Next time, pay more attention.”

Why Did It Change?

When I found out that every state had agreed to honor the right-turn-on-red convention, except New York City, I decided that cops must be tired of hearing the excuse that the driver was used to the rules of the road in another state.

But, that wasn’t it.

It was the gasoline shortages in 1973 and 1979.

In the West it had been common for decades.

But, on the East coast, it was the thought of all those cars sitting and idling at intersections, waiting for the light to turn green, that prompted states to change their laws.

As of January 1, 1980, they’d all changed.

Except for New York City, where you can’t turn right on red unless a sign tells you you can.

Everywhere else, you can unless a sign tells you you can’t.

Did the Policy Cause More Accidents?

Over the next ten years, from 1982 to 1992, 84 people died in crashes at intersections that permitted a right turn on red.

It is not known if the light was red at the time.

Of the fatalities at right-turn-on-red intersections, 44 percent were pedestrians, 10 percent bicyclists, 33 percent two vehicles.

There were a total of 485,104 fatalities in car crashes in that time period.

In 2007, there were 2.4 million crashes at intersections.

This represented 40 percent of all crashes, 20 percent of all fatal crashes.

The most common cause was turning left.

Can You Ever Turn Left on Red?

As of 1994, in 43 jurisdictions (among states, DC and Puerto Rico), you could turn left on red if both streets are one-way.

And, in six more states you could turn left on red if you were turning into a one-way street.

So, you can usually turn right on red, often turn left on red onto one-way streets and always pay attention to the signs for exceptions.

In Virginia, my home state, if there is no sign saying you can’t, you can turn left on red from a one-way street to a one-way street, yielding to traffic and pedestrians.

Do the police know?

Did you ever get stopped because you were following the driving rules of a different state?

Do you remember when you couldn’t turn right on red?

Did you know why it changed?

To you and keeping your grandchildren safe in your car.


Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers




Enhanced by Zemanta