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Fish Or Cut Bait

Right on Red, Returning
by Bob Ciminel


June 10, 2004

One of the major causes of traffic accidents in the Atlanta area is violation of a law that allows you to make a right turn on a red light. The law is clear about what constitutes a legal right turn when facing a red light. "Vehicular traffic facing a steady CIRCULAR RED signal may cautiously enter the intersection to make a right turn after stopping . . . .
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Vehicular traffic shall yield the right of way to other traffic lawfully using the intersection." Unfortunately, most drivers in Atlanta treat a right on red as if it is a YIELD sign. Meaning, "If I can make it without you running into me I'm going for it because once I make that turn I own the road."

While returning home yesterday, I came to an intersection where I have to make a right on red. I came to a stop, giving the driver behind me ample warning so that he would not assume I was only going to slow down. I looked to my left and saw a Ford Explorer coming toward the intersection at around 40 mph. I had plenty of time to make the turn, but the oncoming driver would have had to get on his or her brakes until I accelerated up to 40 mph, so I waited. The premise here was that the Ford Explorer had the right of way, even though it was not yet in the intersection.

About the time that the Ford entered the intersection, a Buick coming down the road to its right sailed into the intersection and the Ford slammed into the passenger side door. There were no squealing tires or honking horns; no one had time to react.

The Ford stopped at the point of collision, but the Buick did a 180-degree spin and would have hit me had I not accelerated and completed my right turn. The premise here being the car I originally stopped for was not going anywhere. I pulled over and stopped and asked myself, "Do I want to go back there and count the bodies?" I knew that anyone sitting in the passenger seat of the Buick would be dead, and assumed there would be fatalities in the Ford Explorer too.

Let me tell you, if there was ever a testimonial for seat belts and airbags, this was it. The person in the Buick was in the worst shape, but only because the impact slammed his head into the driver's side window. He was alone in the car. The mother and son in the Ford Explorer were shaken up, but were already out of their car and standing on the sidewalk by the time I got there. Mom had some bruises from the airbag, and the young boy had a knot on his head from hitting something, but they were lucid and communicative. Thank God, I did not have to use any of the first aid training I have taken over the years.

The poor woman thought she had run a red light, but swore it was green. I assured her that she was not a fault; the light was indeed green, and she was not speeding. As for the man in the other car, I did not talk to him, but I did tell the police that he ran the red light and it appeared to be unintentional because he came through as if the traffic light was not there.

This was clearly an "accident" by most people's definition. The driver at fault did not decide to run the light; he never saw it. However, this accident could have been a lot worse. Had the woman in the Ford Explorer entered the intersection one second earlier, the Buick would have slammed into the driver's side door and events would have taken a completely different course. A child might have lost his mother. On the other hand, if I had been a jerk and pulled out in front of the Ford Explorer, the driver would have had to slow down; the Buick would have gone through the intersection before the Ford got there, and everything may have ended with honking horns and incredulous looks from other drivers. I would have never had the opportunity to meet this very nice woman and her son, or provide them a little comfort on an otherwise uneventful day.


Bob Ciminel ©2004

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