Tactics

Ban Right Turns on Red

Right turn on red (RTOR) is a policy that permits drivers to turn right during a red light after coming to a complete stop, except where specifically prohibited by a posted sign. This nationwide policy (with the exception of New York City) was adopted by the Federal Highway Administration and Department of Energy in the 1970s. Research summarizing multiple studies concludes that the number of pedestrian and bicycle crashes at signalized intersections increased after adoption of the RTOR policy, mainly because a right-turning driver would look left for a gap in traffic and not see pedestrians or cyclists approaching from his or her right side.   A no-right-turn-on-red (NRTOR) policy reverses that policy, prohibiting RTOR unless otherwise permitted at specific locations by posted signs. NRTOR policies could ban right turns in urban or high-pedestrian-density areas at all times or only during daytime hours, which is the time most pedestrian crashes occur.

Guidance
  • Reach out to community stakeholders to discuss pedestrian-safety concerns and potential ways to address them, including NRTOR
  • With the community’s support, clearly sign the entrance and exits to NRTOR zones to clarify expected behaviors of drivers and pedestrians
Benefits
  • Reduces conflicts between drivers and pedestrians
  • A citywide or neighborhood NRTOR policy eliminates the cost of creating, installing, maintaining, and replacing RTOR prohibition signs at each intersection
Considerations
  • Needs regular enforcement
  • Motorists will need to be consistently alerted to RTOR policy changes when entering and leaving NRTOR areas
  • Prohibiting RTOR may lead to higher right-turnon- green conflicts
  • Prohibiting RTOR may cause congestion with high volumes of right turns
  • RTOR policies provide small fuel and time savings
Where to Use It
  • Central business districts and dense urban areas where there are significant variation in traffic volumes and pedestrian activity
  • Intersections:
    • With inadequate sight distance
    • With unusual geometry
    • With high traffic speeds on the intersecting street
    • Where there are high volumes of seniors
    • Where there are heavy volumes of pedestrian crossings
    • Where disabled pedestrians request it
    • Adjacent to parks and hospitals
    • At school crossings
    • At railroad crossings
    • At traffic signals with three or more phases
Professional Consensus
  • Not included in MUTCD or AASHTO
  • In the absence of national guidance, cities are turning to best practices employed by other municipalities
  • 1980 study sponsored by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that, once right turns on red were permitted, the number of crashes involving right turns at traffic signals increased by 20% and pedestrian crashes resulting from right-turn maneuvers at traffic signals increased by 57%
Examples
  • Two cities in North America have citywide NRTOR polices:

This material is the product of a partnership between America Walks and Sam Schwartz Engineering. Visit here for more information on the partnership.