Drivers in Florida and around the country have for the most part been able to make right turns at red lights since the 1970s. States changed their laws to allow right turns at red lights when the federal government warned that prohibiting the practice could lead to funding cuts. The government hoped that allowing drivers to turn right at red lights would keep traffic moving, improve air quality and reduce fuel consumption.
The number of pedestrians and cyclists struck and killed by motor vehicles has surged in recent years. Many American cities have launched ambitious Vision Zero initiatives to eliminate accident deaths completely within a few decades, but pedestrian fatalities in 2022 were the highest in four decades according to a Governors Highway Safety Association report. Officials from Denver, Seattle and Los Angeles are mulling right-on-red bans to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety, and lawmakers in Washington, D.C. have already taken action. Making a right turn at a red light will become an offense in the nation’s capital in 2025.
Pedestrian accident data
In 1994, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was tasked by Congress to assess the safety benefits of prohibiting right turns at red lights. After reviewing motor vehicle accident data gathered in four states over several years, NHTSA found only four fatal accidents that involved drivers who made right turns at red lights. When researchers from the National Motorists Association checked accident records in California, they discovered that drivers making right turns at red lights strike and kill one pedestrian every two years.
Vulnerable road users
Officials in many American cities are thinking about banning right turns at red lights to make the roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists. Supporters of these measures say that more must be done to protect vulnerable road users. Others call red-on-right bans symbolic gestures that will do little to improve road safety.