Berkeley may ban cars from making right turns on red lights. Here’s why

Homeless tents at a park
A drone view of Berkeley in February 2021. The Berkeley City Council voted to approve an initial proposal to prohibit drivers from turning right on a red light.
(Jane Tyska / Getty Images)

In an effort to protect pedestrians and bicyclists, drivers in Berkeley could soon be prohibited from turning right at a red light.

The City Council voted last week to approve an initial proposal that would ban the practice, putting up signs at every intersection with a light in the small city informing drivers of the rule. The vote was first reported by the Berkeleyside news site.

“Policies like eliminating Right on Red are smart and easy ways to begin the process of deprioritizing car use in Berkeley and placing lives [above] driver convenience,” Councilmembers Terry Taplin and Susan Wengraf wrote in the proposal.

They proposed putting up four signs at each intersection as part of the ban to comply with state law.

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Council members passed the proposal as a “budget referral,” meaning they would still need to vote to approve funding in their next annual budget.

It would cost the government about $135,000 to install the signs at all 135 intersections that have lights, Taplin and Wengraf predicted.

“I expect pushback but I am 100% devoted to making our roads safer and our cities more climate resilient,” Taplin said in a statement.


For many years, right on red was called the “California rule,” but the rule expanded to other states during the 1970s gas crisis and the federal government legalized the practice in 1976.

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“The repercussions for pedestrians and cyclists occurred almost immediately. In the 1980’s, allowing Right on Red was found to cause an increase in pedestrian crashes by 60% and an increase in bicycle crashes by 100%,” the two council members wrote.

Some municipalities have carved out their own rules for right on red. It is illegal in New York City to turn right on red unless a sign permits it. Washington, D.C., plans to ban the practice by 2025.

In San Francisco, it is illegal to turn right on red at 50 intersections in the Tenderloin district.

“Berkeley can join these cities in taking a new approach to achieving its Vision Zero goals,” the council members wrote, referring to a global initiative aimed at eliminating traffic deaths.