Option & Obligation (#78)

Our work has many Right Turn on Red (RTOR) moments, where our actions are options not obligations.

A stylized picture drawing of two traffic lights, representing the choices we get to make when stopped at an intersection
Option & Obligation, JLP

You don't have to turn right on red.

No one has your perspective in that moment, no one has your exact vantage point, and no one else can deem your turn on red to be safe. No matter how irate those drivers behind you might seem, turning in that moment is an option not an obligation.

Our work has many Right Turn on Red (RTOR) moments, where we are the only one suitable to act. Our individual perspective is unique — combining our observations, experience, and expertise in a novel way. Others may push us by vocalizing the choice they wish us to make in attempt to usurp our authority. It is in these times that it is hardest to remember that their input is unsolicited, unwarranted, and lacks our perceptions.

New drivers often feel the most anxiety in these moments where confidence in their own skills is under-developed. When we find we lack the confidence necessary to make a choice, that is the time to seek expert advice. In fact we are obligated to do so, it is a learning opportunity. By asking for input, we gain the advantage of what others would do when in our position, yet the choice still remains in our hands.

Just as you wouldn't turn without looking for other traffic and pedestrians, we shouldn't blindly follow the loudest voice in the room. Instead we evaluate the situation, leaning on our tribe for advice and knowledge, assess the alternatives, and make a clear, intentional choice.

It's worth repeating, you don't have to turn right on red.

Motor fuel shortages in the United States in the early In the 1970s were a catalyst for the 1975 Energy Policy and Conservation Act. One part of this law required states to adopt RTOR laws if they wanted to qualify for Federal assistance. Allowing drivers to proceed on red when the intersection was clear would save fuel by reducing idling while waiting for a green light. By 1980 all 50 states, Washington D.C., Guam, and Puerto Rico have allowed motorists to turn right on red, unless expressly prohibited and signed. Until now.

After seeing an uptick in pedestrian and cyclist accidents, Washington, DC will eliminate RTOR in virtually all cases in 2025. On the same day D.C. city council was voting, Ann Arbor, Michigan also instituted a ban at 50 downtown intersections. Fuel conservation won't diminish much either, as modern cars are built with intelligent sensors that shut off the engine when stopped rather than idling at intersections. Given bicycle and pedestrian traffic increases in cities, we're likely to see more RTOR laws repealed across the country.

The Paradox Pairs series is an exploration of the contradictory forces that surround us.  A deeper study finds that these forces often complement each other if we can learn to tap into the strength of each. See the entire series by using the Paradox Pairs Index.