On Saturday, July 1, Maryland will become the last state in the nation to adopt a permissive right-turn-on-red at traffic signals law.
Since 1972, motorists in Maryland have been able to make right turns at red traffic lights, after first coming to a stop, but only where signs specifically have permitted such turns - at about 700 of the state's 3,000 signalized intersections.
The new law permits the turns everywhere except at the few intersections where signs prohibit them. Endorsed by the U.S. Department of Transportation, such laws already are in effect in all other states, although not the District of Columbia. New York City does not permit right-on-red turns, under a special exemption from the state law.
The District and several large cities, including Philadelphia and Boston, have asked for exemption from the law or for permission to adopt the more restrictive law now in force in Maryland because they believe they have more intersections where such turns should be banned than allowed.
Congress approved such turns three years ago in an energy conservation bill, aimed at saving fuel consumed by cars waiting at red lights. Individual states have had such laws long before the nation discovered it had an energy crisis. California enacted the nation's first such law in 1947 after experimenting with it for almost a decade.
The now almost universally adopted legislation requires motorists to come to a full stop and yield to pedestrians and on-coming traffic before turning right at a red light. Such turns usually are not permitted at traffic-lighted intersections where visibility is poor, where there is a pedestrian walk phase in the traffic light, where many children or elderly persons cross or where pedestrian accidents are frequent.
The District claims more than 1,200 of the city's 1,400 intersections would be ineligible for right-on-red turns. City officials say that if the District adopts a law that permits such turns unless signs are posted, the city will have to put up more than 9,500 signs (several at every intersection).
About 75 percent of Maryland motorists are unaware that right-on-red turns are prohibited in the city, according to a survey conducted recently for the State Department of Transportation. The survey of [WORD ILLEGIBLE]licensed Maryland drivers also found that 75 percent did not know they must stop at every red light before turning.