I spent some time this weekend watching what drivers do at intersections, in this case an intersection in Woodbury, where red lights are considered mere suggestions anyway.
Almost unanimously in my 10-minute survey, drivers never stopped at the red light before turning right on red. And those who did never looked to the right; they were only interested in making sure no car was coming from the left.
This is how innocent people die in Minnesota on a surprisingly regular basis.
The latest to die in an accident involving a vehicle turning at an intersection (this one a left turn) was an 18-year-old girl in Forest Lake who was just trying to get home from summer school by crossing this intersection.
The driver, a 65-year-old woman, turned right and struck the girl, WCCO reports.
An MPR News survey a few years ago found that a third of the pedestrian-vehicle incidents in Minnesota were caused by drivers failing to yield.
Police and public safety agencies usually respond to these things with a public education campaign. But those don’t work. Drivers are in a hurry. Who’s got time to be smart about it?
Here’s an idea: Let’s eliminate the right-turn-on-red law in Minnesota.
First of all, few drivers actually follow it, considering the red light the equivalent of a “yield” sign (it’s not). And the design of cars makes the maneuver an unsafe one when turning right (or left). The post of the windshield is directly in the line of sight between the driver and the pedestrian trying to cross the road legally.
And the amount of data the human brain has to process at an intersection is far more than nearly any other act of driving. Giving it a little more time to do so wouldn’t be a terribly illogical thing.
Right-turn-on-red laws had nothing to do with safety when they were established in the ’70s. They were in response to the energy crisis of the day. A car stopped is a car wasting fuel. But cars are more efficient now and the value of a human life hasn’t gotten any cheaper.
Don’t like that idea? Here’s another one from my youth.
Do you know what this used to mean?
It means walk. Nobody moves, except the person crossing the street.
It was mostly phased out in the ’60s in the United States because drivers were important and had places to get to. In fact, all of the changes in traffic lights since have been based on the notion that drivers have places to be.
Pedestrians? Not so much.
Consider when you get a “walk” light at a signaled intersection now: When the traffic light turns green for the driver most likely to mow you down turning right, you get to walk.
Either suggestion will delay drivers for a half-minute or so. But, so what? What makes them so much more important than a kid trying to get home from school?
Related: The right turn on red and some free ideas (streets.mn)