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Allowing drivers to proceed through a red signal if they are turning with the flow of traffic is a surprisingly recent idea. Specifically, it dates to the oil and energy crises of the 1970s.

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The US federal highway administration commissioned a study, headed by Alan Voorhees, that found that allowing rights on reds saved between 1 and 5 seconds for each driver at each red light they encountered, even if they themselves did not turn during the red signal. This was considered to be a significant fuel savings - up to 30% less time spent idling at a red light.

Subsequent studies have found that this practice has a _staggering_ human cost, however. The NHTSA found in the 90s, long after everyone in the US had become accustomed to this practice, that around 84 additional deaths occurred each year as a direct result of someone trying to turn right on a red (against a background of 485k traffic fatalities).

Modern cars don't idle the same way cars in the 1970s did. Between improvements in fuel efficiency, redesigned starter engines, the use of fuel injected instead of carbureted engines, and electronic start, many cars now shut the engine off entirely at red lights. Anyone who bikes regularly can tell you how universal this is. Pure-electric cars also use little to no power while stopped.

Today, traffic fatality rates are much lower, as well. An extra hundred deaths a year was, relatively speaking, a drop in the bucket (if you can tune out your humanity long enough to look at it that way), but an extra hundred deaths per year now is a much higher proportion of the overall traffic deaths.

Speaking from an eyes on the ground level, rights on reds seem extorbitantly dangerous, and prone to snarling traffic worse than if they were not allowed. I can't count the number of times I've seen someone start a right turn during a red light only to discover that they can't exit the intersection, blocking it for both the through traffic and the road they're turning out of (and often blocking bike lanes or crosswalks in the process) until traffic ahead of them clears, for example.

It's past time that the public policy case for turning right on a red was reviewed, in depth. I'd even argue that the practice should be suspended while that review happens.

Having the _option_ to turn right on a red light also, very visibly, encourages drivers to think in terms of planning when and how to start the turn by looking off to the left to wait for an opening, making it harder for them to spot other road users on their right. A driver who is just waiting for the light is generally looking ahead, instead.

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