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Number 86                                                                                             February 1995
U.S. Department of Transportation
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
400 Seventh Street, S.W., Washington, DC 20590


 

THE SAFETY IMPACT OF RIGHT TURN ON RED
REPORT TO CONGRESS

 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently submitted a Report to Congress on the safety impact of permitting right turns at red lights (RTOR). The Energy Policy Act of 1992 directed NHTSA, in consultation with State agencies, to conduct this study with particular emphasis on the impact on pedestrian safety. The report summarizes the current status of state implementation of laws permitting right and left turns at red lights and has a brief review of previous research. It also presents the results of analyses of currently available data assessing the safety impact of permitting right turns on red. 

Since January 1, 1980, all 50 states and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have had laws permitting right-turn-on-red unless a sign prohibits the turn. As of January 1, 1994, 43 jurisdictions provided for left-turn-on-red (LTOR) and nine did not. LTOR is permitted only at the intersection of a one-way street with another one-way street.  

Two Sources of Data

Two sources of data were used to analyze the problem. NHTSA's Fatal Accident Reporting System (FARS) is a census of all of the fatal crashes in the U.S. The FARS includes a code for a right-turn-on-red vehicle maneuver. However, it does not include information on whether a vehicle was turning right on red or turning right on green at the time of the crash. The data only report that the vehicle was turning right at the time of the crash at an intersection where RTOR is permitted. This distinction is important. 

State crash data files of Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, and Missouri include either a code for a right-turn-on-red vehicle maneuver or other codes that make it possible to determine that a RTOR maneuver was executed. The state data cover the years 1989 through 1992, except for Illinois where it covers 1989 through 1991. 

Since neither FARS nor the state crash files include information for a left-turn-on-red vehicle maneuver, and since there are relatively few intersections where a left-turn-on-red is permissible, an analysis of the safety impact of LTOR was not possible. The incidence of LTOR crashes is undoubtedly extremely low. 

Analysis of FARS Data 

  • Approximately 84 fatal crashes occurred per year during the 1982-1992 time period involving a right-turning vehicle at an intersection where RTOR is permitted. During this same time period there were 485,104 fatalities.

     Thus, less than 0.2 percent of all fatalities involved a right-turning vehicle maneuver at an intersection where RTOR is permitted. FARS, however, does not discern whether the traffic signal was red. Therefore, the actual number of fatal RTOR crashes is somewhere between zero and 84 and may be closer to zero than 84.

  • Slightly less than half (44 percent) of the fatal RTOR crashes involve a pedestrian, 10 percent a bicyclist, and 33 percent two vehicles.

 

Analysis of Four States' Crash Data

  • Right-Turn-On-Red crashes represent a very small proportion of the total number of traffic crashes in the four states (0.05 percent).

  • RTOR injury and fatal crashes represent a fraction of 1 percent of all fatal and injury crashes (0.06 percent).

  • RTOR crashes represent a very small proportion of signalized intersection crashes (0.4 percent).

  • When a RTOR crash occurs, a pedestrian or bicyclist is frequently involved. For all four states for all years studied, the proportion of RTOR pedestrian or bicyclist crashes to all RTOR crashes was 22 percent.

  • RTOR pedestrian and bicyclist crashes usually involve injury. Ninety-three percent of RTOR pedestrian or bicyclist crashes resulted in injury.

  • Only 1 percent of RTOR pedestrian and bicyclist crashes resulted in fatal injury. However, less than one percent (0.2 percent) of all fatal pedestrian and bicyclist crashes result from a RTOR vehicle maneuver.

  • RTOR pedestrian crashes are about evenly split between females and males, while RTOR bicyclist crashes predominately involve males.

  • Most RTOR crashes occur between 6 am and 6 pm.

In conclusion, there are a relatively small number of deaths and injuries each year caused by right-turn-on-red crashes. These represent a very small percentage of all crashes, deaths, and injuries. Because the number of crashes due to right-turn-on-red is small, the impact on traffic safety, therefore, has also been small. Insufficient data exist to analyze left turn on red.

For a copy of the report, Safety Impact of Permitting Right-Turn-on-Red, contact: Richard Compton, Ph.D., Office of Program Development and Evaluation, NHTSA, NTS-33, 400 Seventh Street, S.W. Washington, DC 20950, or send a fax to (202) 366-7096.

 



 

U.S. Department of Transportation
National Highway
Traffic Safety
Administration
400 Seventh Street, S.W. NTS-33
Washington, DC 20590

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Evaluation Staff Traffic Safety Programs
(202) 366-2759

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