Right Red Said What?

Red Right Turn ArrowMy well-known hatred of the modern implementation of traffic lights (for which I am sure future generations will mock us) notwithstanding, a recurrent question at lunches past involved the meaning of the red right turn arrow in North Carolina, especially the one located at the I-40 exit to RDU Airport (#295b).

The basic question is this: If a red right-turn arrow means the same thing as a typical, circular red light — for which you are allowed to make a turn after coming to a stop — then why would they have the red arrow?  Certainly most drivers treat it as typical stop sign, but sometimes someone will, in my opinion quite reasonably refuse to turn despite blaring horns from the ever-growing queue behind them of drivers trying to get the airport.

As with many things in this great nation, this law varies randomly depending upon state:

Map showing right turn on red arrow is legal in North Carolina and some other states

Fortunately for RDU drivers, North Carolina is one of the states that allows right turns on red arrows. Unfortunately for anal-retentive physicists, this means that red right turn arrows are nearly degenerate with the only possible additional information being that they indicate that a lane is turn only when red.  At least we’re not the only ones who get confused, the News and Observer blog post I linked to above follows a history of similar posts.

Unlike the behavior of the typical, dangerously unaware, vigilante drivers you sometimes find in Durham (thanks in part to the idiotic “Pace Car” program whose Google Page Rank I will now tag with the word “douchey“) confusion in this case would seem rest at the feet of the NC DOT who feels the need for redundant signage.  So I won’t honk at someone as they make me late for a flight, but I certainly wish they’d phase out the red right turn arrow.

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