You're probably thinking that we've always been able to turn right on red here in Illinois and throughout the rest of the United States. That's because unless you're of a certain age, you have always been allowed to turn right on red, even heavily encouraged to do so.

It wasn't always like that. Up until the oil embargo/oil crisis of the early 1970s, there were only a few states (and they were way out west) that allowed drivers to make that right turn on a red light. The embargo/crisis prompted the federal government to push states into changing their laws to allow right turns on red. Something about saving gas by continuing to drive instead of idling your engine at a stop light. The feds even threatened to withhold highway funding from states that wouldn't comply.

Times change as you know, and now there's a serious movement to go back to making right turns on red illegal here in Illinois and across the rest of the nation.

Angry Middle Eastern man rushing to work and yelling at traffic.
I'm turning right on red, you *$#%! (Getty Images)
Do not turn right traffic road sign isolate on white background.
I don't think so. (Getty Images)

So, If We've Been Doing This For Almost 50 Years, Why Is There All Of A Sudden A Need To Change Right Turn On Red Back To Being Illegal?

Two words might answer that question: pedestrian deaths.

According to a national report by the Governors Highway Safety Association, more than 7,500 people walking were struck and killed by automobiles in 2022, the highest number since 1981.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that the odds a pedestrian would be killed when struck by an automobile turning right were 89% higher when the vehicle was a pickup and 63% higher when it was an SUV, due to larger blind spots and the deadlier force associated with heavier models.

Getty Images
Getty Images

Some Places Have Already Instituted Bans On Right Turns On Red, And It Looks Like Others Are Going To Follow Their Leads

Washington state considered banning right turns on red earlier this year, but the bill, which specified no right turns on red near schools, day care centers, parks and other zones with heavy foot traffic, or where older adults, children and people with disabilities might need more time to cross streets safely never made it to a vote.

  • Chicago's current administration has a plan to "restrict right turns on red," but has offered no specifics. Los Angeles, Seattle, and Denver are all considering bans, too.
  • Honolulu, Hawaii has banned right turns on red in areas that tend to be dense with tourists.
  • Berkeley, California is considering banning right turns on red at all intersections.
  • Ann Arbor, Michigan has banned turning right on red at 50 intersections in their downtown area.

Not everyone is on board with this idea, though.

Jay Beeber, executive director for policy at the National Motorists Association, an advocacy organization for drivers, called it a "fallacy" to assume such blanket bans would make streets safer.

He cited an upcoming study by his association that analyzed California crash data from 2011-2019 and found that drivers turning right on red accounted for only about one pedestrian death and less than one bicyclist death statewide every two years.

"What's really behind this movement is part of the agenda to make driving as miserable and as difficult as possible so people don't drive so much," Beeber said.

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