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