It is hard to break the habits and carefully-nurtured reflexes built up over the years. And so there wasn't a lot of turning right after stopping at red lights yesterday in Northern Virginia.
hat was despite a $35,000 advertising campaign that included television commercials and radio jingles to alert the public to the new statewide right-on-red law that went into effect New Year's Day.
During an hour yesterday - the first workday that the law was in effect - about 100 cars stopped for a red light in the righthand lane of Randolph Street heading north at its intersection with Wilson Boulevard in Arlington. Because the roadway ahead is one-way in the opposite direction, traffic in the righthand lane has only one option: turning right.
Under the new law, cars that stopped for the red light could have then turned right after making sure the way was clear of other autos or pedestrians.
With one exception motorists seemed oblivious of the law.
The exception was Robert Claymire, whose car was second in line in the righthand lane behind a tan Rambler light to change to green.
Claymire honked his horn and motioned for the driver ahead to make whose driver was waiting for the red the right turn. His efforts seemed merely to confuse the other driver.
The line of traffic remained immobile while the light stayed red. When approached by a reporter, Claymire declared: "I'm trying to educate the public." He also said he was rushing to meet some friends who had just arrived from Florida.
Even taxi drivers were failing to take advantage of the new law, which is aimed in part at helping motorists save time and prevent gasoline waste.
Some motorists expressed reservations.
"I know about the law, but like a lot of people, I'm somewhat afraid that I'll get into an accident," said James Springer of Arlington who was eating a hamburger in his car when he stopped for the light on Randolph Street.
"I think this law will change the meaning of green lights as well," said Juan E. Grille of Arlington, who also opted not to make a right-on-red turn at the intersection. "People can no longer go speeding through a green light because they'll risk hitting a car that might be turning off."
Jeff Stell of Alexandria, who was a pedestrian at the busy Randolph Street intersection, said he thinks the law is fine for motorists, but somewhat dangerous for pedestrians.
"Just this morning, there were a bunch of cars in front of my car that had the chance to turn right at a red light and didn't, so I just swung in front of them and made my right turn. They just sort of followed me. But I do think I will have to pay more attention now when crossing a street at a busy intersection," Stell said.
The right-on-red turns are prohibited on some streets, but all of those locations have signs posted saying, "No Turns On Red."
In Fairfax County and Arlington the turns are prohibited at about 81 locations on state-controlled raods, according to Lee Kruse, traffic engineer for the Virginia Highway and Transportation Department's traffic and safety office. In Alexandria, the turns are not allowed at about 32 locatios, Charles Keyon, deputy director of Transportation said.
Kruse said the turns are prohibited at intersections that have more than four roadways or where pedestrian traffic is heavy.
Transportation officials are more concerned that motorist will ignore the "No turn" signs or fail to give pedestrians the right of way when making the turns than with drivers who opt not to take advantage of tthe law, Kruse said.