No right on red was a good choice for Montreal: MTQ

Traffic Lights
La Presse recently dug up a provincial report that quantifies the deaths and injuries related to right turns on red lights, which have been permitted in most of Quebec since April 2003.

In the past seven years, 5 deaths, 30 serious injuries and 622 light injuries have been caused by accidents involving a right turn on a red light. In an interview with La Presse, the head of security at the MTQ said that, while of course 5 deaths are too many, that this is more or less what the ministry expected when they implemented the rule.

Right turns on red lights accounted for only 0.24% of traffic accidents in Quebec in 2009. But the article doesn’t point out that these accidents almost always involve a collision between a car and a pedestrian or cyclist, which probably leads to an increased risk of serious injury or death compared to your average fender-bender.

The MTQ, always anxious to keep the traffic flowing, clashed with the city of Montreal over our refusal to adopt the right on red back in 2003.  Today, it seems, they acknowledge that it was the right decision for the city:

“Montréal est un cas à part au Québec… Nulle part ailleurs on ne trouve une aussi grande proportion de cyclistes et de piétons. Et cette tendance ne fait que s’accentuer depuis des années. Rétrospectivement, c’était probablement la décision qu’il fallait prendre.” (Carl Bilodeau interviewed in La Presse)

The city of Longueuil also wanted to prohibit right turns on red lights but the Transportation Minister refused (see the Radio Canada report live from blvd Taschereau on the day the new regulation was put in place).

Given the increased nuisance and risk to pedestrians, it’s kind of ironic that the MTQ’s 2003 educational campaign about the right on red featured the slogan “je pense piétons“, or in English “I put pedestrians first“. Although pedestrians are meant to have right of way, I have been warned by friends who live outside of Montreal that it is unwise to assume drivers will be on the lookout, especially in towns where pedestrians are few and far between.

What about other Canadian Cities? We rarely stop to consider the effect of existing traffic regulations on our safety but the number of deaths and injuries in Quebec is apparently similar, if not better, than other parts of North America.

Image by Alexandre Normand, cc flickr


  1. Wow, I like how “turning right on red may kill people” becomes not turning right on red is clearly the best choice. Any statistics to compare it to turning left, or driving straight, or reverse (not on red, obviously). How do those deaths compare to “right on red” deaths in other provinces?

    How about Montreal drivers just learn how to drive, period. Then maybe we’ll be able to take the training wheels off and turn on right on red like the grown-ups in the rest of the country.

  2. Scott, I would actually agree with the supposition that if doing something may kill people, and we can easily avoid doing that thing, then not doing it is the clearly the best choice. No?

    According to the report the right-on-red deaths and injuries are similar to what is seen in other provinces, which would imply that these accidents are not because we are particularly bad drivers.

  3. Many commuters would say it’s a good trade-off to kill ONLY five people so that so many more can shave a few seconds off their commute. It reminds me of when island tribes in movies throw people into an active volcano to help satisfy their gods, and then reply “it is our way.” Is killing pedestrians and cyclists really “our way” in the off-island (Mtl and NYC) parts of North America?

  4. For anyone who walks a lot, the no-right-on-red policy is great. Makes for safer and easier jaywalking too.

    Trying to justify a stupid policy (right-on-red) by saying “everyone else is doing it” doesn’t make it any less stupid. 

  5. Scott, it is a question of who has priority on our streets – is it cars, or is it people? Personally I want to live in a pedestrian-friendly city.

    I cannot count the number of times that I have been almost hit by a car which turned right without according me (the pedestrian or cyclist) the right of way. More often than not, it is a driver from out-of-province who is not respecting my rights. And yes I have the right to cross the street when I have a green light.

    I have even accosted drivers on this on more than one occasion. And driver’s do not take very kindly to be ‘disturbed’ when they are in a hurry to get some place. One time someone from Virginia literally tried to force me (and my children!) out of his way so that he could turn right on red. When I yelled at him that the there is no right-on-red in Montreal, and that he had to let us cross the street, he screamed at me that I was putting my childrens’ life in danger. I put my kids on the corner and then when back to explain to him the facts of life. I refused to get out of his way until he listened to me (he had closed the window to indicate that he could care less about my opinion). He suggested that we call the police, and I gladly agreed. Fortunately a police car happened to pass by just then, so I called them over and explained to them the situation and requested that they explain the law to this yahoo. I went on my way with my kids, and a number of people thanked me for taking the time to set this guy straight.

  6. I think no right on red is definitely a good choice for Montreal… definitely makes it more comfortable to be a pedestrian (whether the drivers agree or not). Outside, in less dense areas where there are far fewer pedestrians, it probably doesn’t matter as much – but on the island yes.

  7. One further clarification about my anecdote above – every driver who I have ever accosted about this was doing a turn which was NOT LEGAL even if right-on-red is permitted. Right-on-red laws *permit* a driver to turn right on a red light only after they have come to a complete stop and verified that the way is clear of ALL obstacles, most certainly including pedestrians. Right-on-red in now way accords drivers the right to force pedestrians out of their way, and certainly not to hit them! In any accident in which a car turning right on red hits a pedestrian, the car is, by definition, at fault.

    Given that most drivers who do such illegal turns in Montreal are from out of provence, I think that it is safe to conclude that this law is being abused elsewhere. When Montreal drivers ignore the traffic signals (“why do we need right-on-red? we do whatever we want on red!”), they generally tend to do it when nobody is bothered.

  8. Scott is right – there is no way to be sure that these accidents are incremental over what would have occurred had there not been right on red.

    One thing no one ever mentions is the huge previously existing investment Quebec and especially Montreal has in the hilarious (and frustrating, for drivers) green arrow straight ahead lights synchronized with the walk/don’t walk lights. (the green arrow straight ahead changes to a regular round green light when the ‘don’t walk’ light comes on) This system is almost never used elsewhere in North America as -obviously- it is incompatible with right turn on red.

    Of course this is hilarious because 95% of all pedestrians in Montreal cross on any light including red lights ~ and I am still waiting to see a pedestrian in Montreal who actually stands on the curb during a green light “waiting for the *WALK* light to come on”. Something I don’t expect to ever see.

    The straight ahead green arrow system, with the racks of six or six traffic lights per cluster that it creates, must have looked impressive to some goofball planners back in the ’60s or ’70s but they simply do not work and are probably the real reason why there is no right turn on red in Montreal!

  9. Offroad artist, you’re full of it. Lots, most people wait for the light to cross the street. Wild generalizations like this don’t make me think too much of your opinion, since it’s not based on fact, but some prejudice you have, perhaps assuming everyone acts with the same lack of respect for other people that you evidently possess.

    “and I am still waiting to see a pedestrian in Montreal who actually stands on the curb during a green light “waiting for the *WALK* light to come on”.

    The walk signal comes on first, along with the start of the green light. It’s car drivers that have to wait, except they often don’t.

  10. The no-right-on-red rule is appropriate. Frankly, I think it’s mildly idiotic that right turns are allowed during red lights in most of North America. No wonder there are so many automobile accidents… how do you expect people to drive competently when they’re obliged to follow moronic road rules?

    I also think Montreal drivers are quite good compared to, say, British Columbia or Ontario drivers. Our traffic flow is more organic, hence more jaywalking. We don’t need someone to spoonfeed us rules and regulations in order to understand what is dangerous, or not, on the road. I rarely have problems in Quebec as a pedestrian, cyclist, or driver, compared to BC and Ontario where drivers honestly think they own the road and go out of their way to terrorize pedestrians and cyclists who “dare” to take up space on their God-given roadways.

    Well, in any case… at least the island of Montreal is free from right-on-red road retards.

  11. Wait… according to the NYC study quoted in “Worldwide Wednesday” aren’t *left* turns more dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists?

    Also, the stats quoted here prove absolutely nothing. 0.24% of anything isn’t signficant to determine any kind of policy.

    A more serious approach would be to compare Toronto and Montreal deaths/injuries per km of street.

    I noticed in my (very limited) experience as a pedestrian in T.O. that right-on-red had the surprising positive side effect that on quieter interesctions, I didn’t have 3 cars chomping at the bit behind me when the “WALK” sign turned on… they already were gone by the time the light was green for me.


  12. Can we implement this Montreal rule here in Toronto, there are way way way too many drivers here that abuse the right turn on red allowance here.

  13. It seems right-on-red was implemented the day before the Québec election in 2003. Apparently someone thought they’d win over a lot of Liberal voters by letting the cars roam free? Recently-sacked Transport Minister Boulet and her crazy projects showed there is indeed quite a PLQ carstituency.

  14. To Wogster:

    The City of Toronto is planning to test no right on red on select intersections within the downtown core in the near future. This pilot follows on the heels of the two pedestrian priority intersections along Yonge Street. 

    For someone not from Montreal, I always point to the Island as a precedent for pedestrian first street design, along with your pole mounted traffic signals, contra flow and physically segregated bike lanes. The no right on red is part of the Montreal urban design mystique. I’d hate to see it compromised simply because someone wants to arrive somewhere a few seconds sooner.

  15. Hey “ALF”.

    The walk light only comes on for a few seconds.

    Are you trying to say that pedestrians in Montreal arriving at a curb when the light is green and the “Don’t Walk” is on usually stand and wait for the next “Walk” signal? If you ever see one, please take a picture for science.

    Otherwise, regarding respect, I think you oughta practice a little of what you preach.

    As far as the motorists are concerned, the biggest problem with right on red is that the “full stop” has never been properly taught in Quebec. The “rolling stop” is pretty much mandatory here. “Right on red” cannot be properly executed by Quebec drivers because the base component of a proper right on red turn is the “full stop”.

  16. Tourner à droite aux feux rouges à Montréal. NON.
    Où c’est permis la majorité des conducteurs ne respectent pas la loi qui demande que nous fassions un arrêt obligatoire avant de tourner. Trop de conducteurs NE FONT PAS DE STOP AVANT de tourner.
    Donc, un danger pour les piétons et surtout ceux de Montréal centre ville où les trottoirs sont bondés de travailleurs et autres citadins.

    Lorsque je vais rencontrer des amis à P.A.T. venant de Longueuil je trouve un peu ennuyant d’attendre pour rien aux stops mais JE COMPRENDS tellement bien.
    Merci. ML

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