Right turns on red: Do they put pedestrians in danger?

Pedestrians do not have it easy in Knoxville – or most other large cities for that matter. American infrastructure was designed primarily with automobiles in mind, and any pedestrian accommodations now in place were likely an afterthought.

To make matters worse, drivers have gotten used to being the most powerful travelers on the road, which means that they often fail to keep an eye out for walkers and non-motorized vehicles. As a result, pedestrians and bicyclists are at serious risk of being struck by a car every time they cross the street or attempt to travel along the sides of roads.

There may be no easy solution to this problem, but some cities are beginning to ban common driver practices. For instance, the city of Seattle recently decided to prohibit right turns on red (RTOR) at 10 specific intersections in the city’s busy downtown area. If experiments like this prove successful, some areas may choose to implement city-wide bans on the practice of RTOR.

A recent news article written by a proponent of such bans notes that there is not much data to quantify the problem or to predict how effective a change would be. Pedestrian accident rates are often tracked at the city, state and federal levels, but the details of any given accident are rarely recorded (such as if an accident occurred during an RTOR, for instance).

The article’s author also notes that RTOR was widely instituted not as a matter of convenience but as a way to conserve fuel during and after the oil shortage of the 1970s. Modern cars are much more fuel-efficient, so the actual amount saved by turning right on red may no longer be significant.

If Knoxville were to implement an RTOR ban, it would likely take some time for drivers to give up a deeply ingrained habit. But would the change be worth it if it meant safer streets for pedestrians and bicyclists? What do readers think?