October 4, 1999
HISTORY OF RIGHT-TURN-ON-RED LAW
By: James J. Fazzalaro, Principal Analyst
You asked for the history of Connecticut's Right-Turn-on-Red (RTOR) law. You wanted this information to assist you in reviewing a constituent's statement that he was the person who first proposed this idea.
Your constitutent's assertion is based on four letters that he provided. These are: (1) a letter to Congressman Robert Giaimo dated October 18, 1973, (2) a letter from Rep. Giaimo to your constituent dated November 7, 1973, (3) a letter from the Connecticut transportation commissioner Joseph Burns to your constituent dated January 25, 1974, and (4) a letter from Rep. Giaimo to your constituent dated February 7, 1974. These letters establish the general timeframe for your constituent's communication of his idea about RTOR of late 1973 and early 1974.
The existing historical and legislative record with respect to the timeframe of your constituent's four letters does not seem to establish a compelling case for his assertion. California was the first state to pass a RTOR law in 1947. By the end of 1972, there were 13 states that allowed RTOR at any intersection unless specifically prohibited by a sign. Another four states passed the law in 1973. The Arab oil embargo and resultant energy crisis stimulated considerable interest in RTOR throughout the country during the period from 1974 through 1976. During these three years, another 26 states adopted generally-permissive RTOR. Connecticut adopted a restrictive RTOR law in 1975, but did not adopt a generally-permissive law until 1978. It was the second to last state in the country to adopt such a law.
It appears that as many as 17 states already had RTOR laws by the time of your constituent's initial communication with Congressman Giaimo in October 1973. The first RTOR bill in Connecticut (HB 5488) was proposed by Representatives Fabrizio, Apthorp, and Genovesi during the 1973 legislative session, before your constituent's October letter. Thus unless he suggested RTOR to these legislators prior to his written communication with Rep. Giaimo in October, it appears that the genesis of the idea probably originated elsewhere.
Extensive public hearings were held on RTOR legislation in 1975, 1977, and 1978. Your constituent does not appear to have testified at any of these hearings and no one who testified identified him as the source of the idea.
CONNECTICUT'S RTOR LAW
Connecticut passed a sign-permissive RTOR law in 1975 and changed it to a generally-permissive law in 1978. Essentially a sign-permissive RTOR law allows a right turn at any intersection where there is a sign posted specifically authorizing the turn. A generally-permissive law is one where a right turn is automatically authorized unless a sign is posted prohibiting it. Among traffic engineers these are also generally known as the "Eastern Rule" and the "Western Rule" respectively.
Connecticut's RTOR law is codified as CGS § 14-299.
NATIONAL RTOR STATUS THROUGH 1973
RTOR was a well known though not universal practice in the United States before 1973, but received a considerable boost throughout the country during the period from 1973 through 1976 largely due to the Arab oil embargo and a heightened awareness of energy conservation on a national level. California was the first state to enact a generally-permissive RTOR law in 1947. Between 1947 and 1972, another 12 states enacted such RTOR laws. These were Utah and Oregon (1951); Arizona (1953); Nevada and Washington (1957), Alaska, Colorado and Florida (1969); Minnesota and New Mexico (1971); and Hawaii and Nebraska (1972).
Four states adopted RTOR in 1973 (Illinois, Indiana, North Dakota, and Texas). In the next three years, 26 additional states adopted generally-permissive RTOR laws (eight in 1974, six in 1975, and 12 in 1976). Four states adopted generally-permissive RTOR in 1977.
Through 1976, six states had sign-permissive RTOR laws. These were Wyoming (1967); Maine and Maryland (1972), and Connecticut, South Carolina, and Vermont (1975).
LEGISLATIVE HISTORY OF CONNECTICUT RTOR
The first bill proposing RTOR in Connecticut was introduced in 1973 (HB 5488). It was proposed by Representative Fabrizio of the 140th District and subsequently co-sponsored by Reps. Apthorp of the 45th District and Genovesi of the 12th District. It was referred to the Transportation Committee which took no action on it during the 1973 session. A copy of the proposed bill is attached. No RTOR bill was proposed in 1974, but two were proposed in 1975. One of them, HB 6484, was introduced by Reps. Dzialo of the 33rd District and Collins of the 140th District and Sen. Cutillo of the 15th District. The other, SB 77, was raised by the Transportation Committee. HB 6484 was incorporated into SB 77 by the committee and a public hearing was held on March 24, 1975. The Senate passed SB 77 on May 13, 1975 and the House on May 19. It became PA 75-297.
We reviewed the public hearing transcript and your constituent neither testified nor was credited with the idea by anyone who testified. Three members of the Department of Transportation traffic engineering staff testified (D'Addabo, McCowley, and Lynch) as did Kenneth Wood, Deputy Administrator of the Connecticut Energy Agency. Wood referred to his agency's annual report to the governor and legislature in which RTOR was discussed as a recommended energy conservation measure. Others who testified were Newington Police Chief Phillip Lincoln representing the Connecticut Chiefs of Police Association, John Casey representing the Connecticut Motor Club AAA, and Stanley Pac the Commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Initial implementation of RTOR following passage of the 1975 law proved somewhat disappointing to many legislative supporters of the idea as only a very small number of intersections were posted with RTOR signs in the first year. This caused several bills requiring generally-permissive RTOR to be submitted over the next three years. The Transportation Committee raised a generally-permissive RTOR bill in 1976 (SB 613) but held no public hearing on it. Four bills were introduced in 1977. One proposed bill, HB 5129, had 29 co-sponsors. Another bill, HB 5132, had eight co-sponsors. A third bill, SB 180, was co-sponsored by Sen. Schneller of the 20th District and Rep. Dodes of the 88th District. The Transportation Committee took no action on any of the proposed bills but raised its own bill, SB 345, and held 10 public hearings on it throughout the state. The hearings were held on January 24, March 1, March 3, March 10, March 11, March 14, March 15, March 18, March 22, and March 24.
The Transportation Committee received testimony on SB 345 at all but the March 15, March 22, and March 24 hearings. The transcript record shows that besides Hartford, hearings were held in at least four other towns (Stamford, Berlin, Waterford, and New Haven). Some of the other hearings also appear to have been held outside of Hartford, but the transcript is unclear on which towns these were. Your constituent's name does not appear in any of the hearing transcripts.
The Transportation Committee reported SB 345 favorably to the Appropriations Committee, which did not act on it further.
Permissive RTOR was introduced again in 1978. One proposed bill, HB 5037, had 58 co-sponsors. The Transportation Committee did not act on it but raised its own committee bill, HB 5045, and held two public hearings on January 23, 1978 and March 1, 1978. Frank D'Addabo, William McGrath, and Ted Siegal testified at the January 23 hearing. Ed McDonald, Michael Klein, John Casey, John Cavallero, Frank Strano, and Nelson Douglas testified at the March 1 hearing.
HB 5045 was amended and passed by the House on April 24, 1978 and passed by the Senate as amended on May 1, 1978. PA 78-309 became the law in its current form. Neither the House nor Senate floor proceeding transcripts credit your constituent.
We can provide you with the hearing and proceedings transcripts should you wish to review them further.
Attachment: HB 5488 (1973)