Those of us who drive in Maryland, whether occasionally or frequently, will be affected by two new laws that go into effect on Saturday.
The first of these is the right-turn-on-red rule, which isn't quite the unalloyed joy its proponent make it out to be.
The new law says that except where there is a sign prohibiting such turns, a motorist may make a right turn on a red light if he has first stopped and yielded the right-of-way to vehicles and pedestrians proceeding onthe green .
In recent years, Maryland has followed the general rule that right-on-red was not permitted except at intersections where signs authorized "Right on Red After Stop."
A survey has found that in Montgomery and prince George's counties, 70 percent of those making right-on-red turns failed to come to acomplete stop first.
On July 1 (Saturday), Maryland will switch to a more permissive law. The general rule will be that right turns will be permitted, except at intersections where sign forbids them.
So traffic officials are worried about the danger of collisions and pedestrian injuries. They ask, "If 70 percent of our local drivers failed to stop under the old, more restrictive law, what's going to happen when the more permissive law goes into effect ?"
Most drivers know they are supposed to stop before turning on a red light. However, few seem aware that in addition to stopping they must yield the right of way to pedestrians and vehicles proceeding on the green light. So there is danger that once a driver has stopped (or merely slowed down), he will feel he has as much right to enter the intersection as those who have the green light. That will cost lives.
Drivers will also have to adjust to a relatively minor side issue. Where drivers have a choice of more than one lane, the presumption is that those who wish to turn right will follow the universal rule and the turn "from the lane closest to the direction of the turn." In other words, from the right lane.
However, I know of nothing in the new law that says those who wish to go straight ahead are forbidden to use the right lane.
Thus on a four-lane street (two in each direction), a vehicle will put up to a red light in the lane next to the median. The next driver has a choice of stopping behind the first one or alongside him, in the right lane. Very often he chooses the right lane.
Then somebody who wants to turn right comes up behind the fellow in the right lane and begins blowing his horn. The turner thinks the right turn is mandatory, rather than permissive, but I see nothing in the law to that effect. Where turns are mandatory, that requirement must be spelled out by signs.
So we can expect some frayed tempers on this score. However, these difficulties will be minor compared to those that will be caused by drivers who fail to stop before turning; or those who, having stopped, fall to yield the right of way.
The second new law of interest to those who drive in Marylandis best described by an article in the current issue of the official publication of the Greater Washington/Maryland Service Station Association. It says:
"Come July 1, some oil companies in Maryland are going to have to make a drastic move on pricing.
"SB 1023, which requires them to sell to dealers at least four cents below the lowest retail price posted in a company-operated outlet, will go into effect on that date.
"The big question is: will Exxon, Sunoco, Citgo, etc., who have retail operations selling at prices ranging from 7/10 cents below their dealer-tank-wagon price to a couple of cents above it, drop their wholesale price to dealers or raise their retail prices - and price themselves out of competition with independent marketers?"
Many a Maryland service station owner has complained, "There's a company-owned 'gas-and-go' station down the road that sells gas at retail for the same price the company charges me at wholesaler."
The new law will require the major oil companies give the independent station at least 4-cent margin for overhead and profit. The question, therefore, is which way will the majors go: Will they raise retail prices at their own gas-and-go stations by four cents, thus losing business to full-service independent stations, or will they lower wholesale prices to the independents?
The consumer seldom wins in decisions of this kind, but until Saturday we can hope for the best.