I Hate Traffic: Right Turn on Red During Rush

Perhaps my biggest pet peeve with driving is when people act aggressively to put themselves first, even if only by a car length. As if commuting is a NASCAR event. Guess what, it's not.

Today's example is the ever-popular right turn on red. The legal basis for allowing a right turn on red is found, not in traffic laws, but in energy conservation legislation (see 42 USC 6322(c)(5)). It's purported to save on combustible feel consumption in vehicles because they won't have to sit idle as long. There are, however, a couple caveats.

First, you must come to a complete stop before executing the turn. Second, the turn is only allowed "to the maximum extent practicable consistent with safety." If there is on-coming traffic, and you see a 1-car gap, this is generally not "to the maximum extent practicable consistent with safety." Moreover, though I've not found legal text saying this, it is my believe that the right turn on red is not allowed if traffic is backed up. What? Ok, let me explain...

You are not allowed to enter an intersection unless you can clear it. Thus, during rush, if traffic backs up to an intersection, you're not supposed to pull into the intersection, with the impact of blocking cross-traffic. This rule also applies to traffic that incorrectly believes that they can execute a right turn on red. If you are at a red light, you are required to yield to cross-traffic, which includes yielding your right turn on red privilege to allow stacked up traffic to clear the intersection. You do not have the right or privilege to jam yourself into traffic via a right turn on red just because you think you can.

The other aspect of this annoyance is when people gun around the corner because they see a gap. This is not safe driving, and is clearly not permitted.

My belief is that allowing right turn on red during rush is actually having the opposite intended effect. When people turn into backed up traffic, they are only contributing to the delays. Unfortunately, people also feel inclined now to enter intersections without clearing them, which makes turning traffic feel the need to force their position. Really, both sides need to back off, follow the law, and act more politely and with deference to traffic and the law.

My proposed solution to this problem is thus: ban the right turn on red during key rush times. Here in Northern Virginia, 7a-9a and 4p-7p should suffice. The downside, of course, would be the cost of signs. Fortunately, you would not need to do this at all intersections, but only at those intersections where traffic is frequently backed up.

If only people would look beyond their noses when driving, and then behave in a civil manner. Perhaps we wouldn't have as many of these crazy situations.

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