A car signals to take a right turn onto Mukilteo Boulevard while a red light is showing on Friday, Nov. 17, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A car signals to take a right turn onto Mukilteo Boulevard while a red light is showing on Friday, Nov. 17, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

In Everett, right turns on red go under the microscope

Research suggests limiting right turns on red saves lives. Seattle and other metro areas have begun banning the turns.

EVERETT — What if there was a world where you couldn’t turn right on red?

A push to end the common practice has gained steam across the country. Advocates argue it could reduce car crashes and make pedestrians safer.

In Everett, officials are looking at banning right-on-red turns at some intersections — or entirely.

In 2024, the city will begin using a federal grant in pursuit of a goal to reach zero traffic fatalities. The grant will fund a study of the issues, to guide decisions “for traffic engineers and policy makers,” Corey Hert, the city traffic engineer, wrote in an email.

In Everett, there are 186 traffic signals, Public Works spokesperson Kathleen Baxter said. All but eight are owned and operated by the city, while the state Department of Transportation is responsible for the rest.

“Still, there is concern by a number of professionals and policy makers that universal right on red restrictions would lead to more congestion, emissions and rear end collisions,” Hert wrote. “Any implementation needs to involve education and enforcement for an extended period, otherwise there is a potential to build disregard for traffic regulation.”

Hert added: “Not every location may be suitable for this treatment, for example, where pedestrians are restricted from crossing.”

A 2019 study published by the Institute of Transportation Engineers took a look at 72 intersections in Washington D.C. Researchers found outlawing right turns on red reduced vehicle collisions by 97% — at peak hours, at intervals when the light was red — and car vs. pedestrian incidents by 92%, with the same caveats. In response, the district is ending most right turns on red by 2025.

The Seattle Department of Transportation also created a policy this year where all new or modified traffic signals will default to no right turn on red. The department cited the 2019 study in a memo explaining the new policy.

Hert said “early safety analysis” of the changes in Seattle and Washington D.C. was positive. In 2015, the Evergreen Way and Airport Road intersection banned right turns on red, for pedestrian safety.

Right turns on red have been OK under federal policy since 1975. During the 1970s energy crisis, the federal Energy Policy and Conservation Act even required states to permit right turns on red to reduce fuel consumption. If states didn’t allow right turns on red, they were not eligible for federal funding that promoted conservation.

In the 2023 legislative session, Senate Bill 5514 would have prohibited turning right on red in certain places with high pedestrian traffic. Sponsors included state Sen. Marco Liias, D-Edmonds, and Sen. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek. The bill included elementary or secondary schools, child care centers, public parks or playgrounds.

The bill did not make it out of committee, but Lovick plans to try again next year, a spokesperson for his office said.

The effort was, in part, spurred by a staggering statistic: 745 traffic deaths statewide in 2022, the largest number of deaths on Washington roads and highways since 1990. Of those deaths, 130 were pedestrians.

“Pedestrians,” Hert wrote, “are the most vulnerable users in the transportation system, the most often injured, and restricting right on red would almost certainly reduce serious injury and fatal collisions at signalized intersections.”

Jordan Hansen: 425-339-3046; jordan.hansen@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @jordyhansen.

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