Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Left on Red

I find this little article from Joe Rose on left turns on red very funny.  I remember when I returned to Oregon after a long absence (they still had me in the system and so the re-issued my ODL with my old number - I liked that, I still remembered it) I had to take the written driver's test to get my ODL.  Well, in fact it was the computer test, but anyway I remember reading through the manual and reading the same law that allows a vehicle in Oregon to take a left turn from a two-way street onto a one-way street on a red light (arrow or not).  I was amazed.  I always knew you could do a left on red from a one-way to a one-way but not this.  In Corvallis, I often found myself at the intersection of Western and 3rd, facing east (or west on Western at 4th - same deal).  I still do.  Here is the picture of the intersection:

Now, you can, legally turn on red here.  But I have NEVER seen anyone do it.  And I have never had the courage to do it myself - it just feels too wrong.

So why do I mention this.  Well, I think its funny, but I also think this is an example of how social norms can effect our decisions in a way that is not often talked about by economists.  Clearly, turning left on red is better for me than waiting for the light to turn (assuming I can do it safely).  But my conditioning and the fact that I am sure folks will think I am recklessly braking the law keeps me from doing it.  So in the end my optimal decision is to wait.

Which is really neither here nor there in terms of the law, but it does seem that if the norm is so strong that no one turns anyway, perhaps the law should follow the norm.

[NB: There is also the fact that, as the article suggests, I have no confidence that I would not get a ticket anyway from a police officer who thought I had made an illegal turn]

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