Enforcing “No Right on Red”

A letter to the editor in today’s Sun caught my eye this morning. A suburban resident had been ticketed for taking a right turn on a red light at the intersection of Chelmsford and Plain Streets. The intersection has “No Right on Red” signs, but the writer said the sign was blocked by a utility crew and so she did not see it. The officers around the corner who were positioned to stop drivers committing this infraction were unmoved and the driver intends to appeal.

When I exited the Lowell Connector at Plain Street at lunchtime today, two Lowell police officers were positioned up near the Chelmsford Street intersection, pulling over all those who had failed to see the above-referenced letter and ignored the “No Right on Red” sign which today had neither a utility crew nor anything else masking it.

While I sympathize with the letter writer – it’s impossible to drive and not commit an inadvertent violation on occasion – I was quite pleased to see the police officers cracking down on this particular violation. For many drivers, “No Right on Red” is more a suggestion than a rule that is usually accompanied not by a stop but by acceleration as the driver tries to rush in front of the oncoming traffic. Some strategic enforcement can only help.

9 Responses to Enforcing “No Right on Red”

  1. Steve says:

    At that particular intersection, people take stopping for a red light as a suggestion!
    Usually, if you’re waiting at a red light on Plain and Chelmsford Streets and the light turns green, you still have to wait for at least three cars to whip by before you can step on the gas.

  2. Kosta says:

    This is the kind of thing that people will bicker about more than things like “should we have invaded Libya”. Dick, your column doesn’t really address the woman’s concern that the sign was blocked. And if it was blocked then the police should not have been there to “ticket”. A superior likely sent the police car to the site without knowing of the work going on around there and the police did their job unthinking. :)

  3. Dean says:

    I see more mothers in vans with children in them roll through a STOP sign. What does that teach the children about about the rules of the road. Let’s broaden the discussion about people not stopping at stop signs.

  4. Righty Bulger says:

    Just because the woman claims she didn’t see the sign doesn’t mean she didn’t see it. Let’s be honest here. Nobody takes that route for the first time. She very likely travels that road all the time. Even if she couldn’t see the sign that day, I’m sure she’s seen it other days.

    Bravo LPD for doing your job.

  5. George DeLuca says:

    When you bring pedestrians into the mix, following the rules of the “law” is very helpful, although often inefficient if not inconvenient. As drivers must drive “defensively” with other vehicles, the same often applies in the pedestrians/drivers relationship with the pedestrian at the obvious disadvantage.

    To arrive at a harmonious solution, this is a subject that must be considered both ways. Inspired by Matt Donohue’s green experiment in leaving the car at home as much as possible, I’m currently doing a study from the pedestrians perspective, while considering the drivers view; and will share the results on this blog at a later date.

  6. DickH says:

    I did say that I sympathized with the woman and that everyone commits unintentional violation now and then – luck is always an element of driving in my view. I’m a bit rusty on my traffic law but I assume if she can convince a judge the sign was invisible she’ll be found not responsible.

    My main point was the proclivity of drivers to completely ignore these signs. They not only make it dangerous, they tend to jam up traffic. And they are a huge threat to pedestrians because when they’re whipping thru their illegal right turn, they’re looking left for onrushing traffic. Pity the poor pedestrian who is legally crossing from the right. He doesn’t stand a chance

  7. C R Krieger says:

    Righty Bulger says:  “Nobody takes that route for the first time.”

    It reminds me of my days flying in Europe where the rule on Cross Country flights was that you couldn’t go if you haven’t been before. Usually you got to go by being on the wing of someone who had already been.

    There is a sense in our fine City that everybody knows the names of all streets and all the little quirks of driving.

    However, we are a “destination” City.  People come here for the Tsongas Arena, the Memorial Auditorium and the National Park, plus restaurants.  We should cater to them.  Give them reasons to come back.

    And, once the police have finished putting the fear of fines into the hearts of folks on Plain Street they need to go to some Four-Way stops and encourage stopping.

    Regards  —  Cliff

  8. Joe S says:

    Right on red, after stopping, is a means to expedite traffic and save on fuel consumption. Yes, after stopping, after ensuring no competing traffic and certainly avoiding pedestrians. That should be the norm, but there are exceptions. Exactly how these exceptions are determined are not obvious.

    In the case at hand, the exception may be due to the complex intersection, although the “fifth spoke” has been made one-way outgoing, a factor which may provoke reconsideration. In any case, the woman (by her own testimony) did stop and did ascertain that there were no competing vehicles nor pedestrians in harm’s way. And she claims the no turn on red exception was hidden from view. It seems like a stretch to fine her $150 (plus further insurance surchages) for making a safe maneuver just because of a not obvious sign intended to ensure that no unsafe maneuvers were made.

  9. Corey says:

    As Cliff said, driving in Lowell certainly is more of an art than a science, and is far easier for those of us who have spent our entire lives at least in the passenger seat. It worries me that a new generation of Lowell drivers will be coming up who spent so many years in the back seat of a car, unable to watch the road, so that an airbag doesn’t decapitate them.

    Either way, no right on red signs aren’t exactly eye-catching. I know I’ve noticed some for the first time after many, many times driving through an intersection. You also wouldn’t believe how many people think a red arrow means “no right on red.” All it means is it’s a dedicated signal for turning lanes. I’ve won a few bets based on this one.

    As for four-way stops, aren’t we one of the few first-world nations who actually think these are a good idea? Doesn’t most of the rest of the motoring world sign their roads like people actually use four-way stops here? That is, slow down approaching the crossroads. Make sure nobody else is approaching, roll forward. If somebody else is getting there at the same time as you, stop, driver to the right goes first. Better for traffic flow, better for fuel economy to not stop completely, less confusion in judging who really “stopped” first.

    There is a difference between the letter of the law and reasonable driving. Route 3 is signed as a 55 MPH road based on a technicality. It’s a more modern and safer road than most 65 MPH interstates in the state. It’s a federal design I’m sure, and the design-speed is 75 last I checked. Guess how fast most traffic goes? Similarly, we are in the habit now of putting stop signs on the end of off-ramps that merge with traffic from the right (like the one coming off the Connector Inbound onto Industrial Ave). Cops love to patrol these things for people blowing the stop, but they were designed for merging at speed. The disconnect between the signage and the intuitive feel of the road causes accidents itself as the car ahead of you (or behind you should you chose to full-stop) becomes unpredictable.

    We need saner intersection designs. Instead of throwing up BS stop signs, start by making the approaches look more like intersections and less like freeway onramps. Instead of having no-right-on-reds, don’t have 50 foot wide roads that encourage traffic to fly through at 45 MPH. I almost killed a few people the first times I drove the Lord Overpass because those stupid ramps merging down to Thorndike St are so poorly designed and Thorndike St, though signed a 30 I believe, is treated like an interstate: because it is scaled as one.