It's one of those things that most drivers are guilty of sometime or another: rolling through a right turn when the traffic signal is red. Rarely does this infraction result in an acident, but when it does it can have deadly consequences as I found out in a recent case of mine
Arlene “Kay” Marshall was a well-known and well-liked resident of St. Charles, Illinois. A retired school aide, Kay was a familiar figure, often seen riding her bicycle as she made her way around town.
On August 6, 2010, Kay left her home at Carroll Towers in St. Charles and approached the intersection of West Main Street (Route 64) and North 2nd Street (Route 31). Kay walked her bicycle southbound on the east side of 2nd Street. As she waited to cross southbound across Main Street, a heavy truck approached the same intersection traveling westbound on Main Street.
According to witnesses, the truck began making a rolling right turn, turning against a red light. The truck began to turn at the same time Kay began to enter the roadway. Kay’s bike was clipped by the truck and became stuck on the mud flap. As the truck pulled away, Kay was pulled underneath, and died after being dragged for several hundred feet.
(On behalf of Kay’s survivors, I and Peter Flowers conducted an independent investigation that included witness interviews, videos from the intersection, and an interview with a pathologist. Our efforts resulted in the case being settled for $875,000.)
What I find particularly tragic about Kay's death is that statistically it was a rare occurence. The incidence of accidents involving right-turn-on-red (RTOR) that result in pedestrian or bicyclist deaths is tiny compared to pedestrians who jaywalk or bikers who ignore traffic signals. This may shock many who regularly walk through Chicago's Loop, dodging right-turning cabs and delivery trucks, and certainly will amaze those of us who observe the downtown bicycle delivery people who defy death every time they hit the streets.
Interestingly, the current vogue of cities installing red light cameras at intersections has done little to change the already low number of accidents, fatal and non-fatal, attributed to RTOR. They have, however, served nicely as revenue enhancers.
In Kay's case there was a clear connection with the rolling stop and the subsequent accident, but an equally strong component was the inattentiveness of the truck driver. As noted by Craig Brown in another post on this site, distracted or tired truck drivers pose an enormous risk. In this case the driver was contracted "by the load," and may have been in a hurry to fill his empty truck.