America's multitasking drivers are too busy to glance to their right when making right turns, a new study has found. The research, published this week in the New England Journal of Motor Vehicle Operation, puts to rest a question that's vexed pedestrians and researchers alike for decades.
"We've wondered for years why, exactly, drivers don't look right when they turn right," said John K. Toole, a professor of some kind and lead author of the study. "Was it a physiological defect? A cognitive issue, something to do with spatial awareness? We were stumped."
The answer, as it turned out, was more mundane.
"Overwhelmingly," Toole said, "it's because they're just too busy."
In reaching that conclusion, Toole and his colleagues observed driver behavior over three days at intersections in four metropolitan areas—Kansas City, Missouri; Sacramento, California; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Houston, Texas. Some intersections were high-traffic; others, relatively quiet. Some had stop lights; others, stop signs.
Over the course of their research, they recorded nearly 8,500 instances of drivers making right-hand turns. In every instance, the driver approached the red light or stop sign, looked left, and rolled on to turn right without even glancing in the direction they were turning.
"One time we thought we saw a lady looking right before turning right," Toole said. "But when we followed up with her later, we learned that she wasn't looking for pedestrians—she was checking her passenger seat for loose French fries."
In fact the researchers followed up with almost all of the motorists they observed, tracking them down via their license plate numbers and asking them explicitly why they hadn't looked right before making their right turns.
While a handful offered excuses or insisted that they had looked right, most simply replied that they couldn't be bothered.
"The common refrain was, I was busy," Toole said.
The American Drivers Club, a pro-driving group, released a statement praising the authors of the study and advising pedestrians to "remember (their) place."
"Today's on-the-go motorist just doesn't have the time to look every which way every time he or she wants to make a turn, nor should they have to," said Ignatius Reilly, a spokesman for the ADC. "Drivers have places to go, phone calls to make, text messages to send, hair to check in the mirror, and on and on."
"If you don't like it, stop walking and start driving."