The Dangers of Left Hand Turns: Alternative Traffic Patterns Seek to Reduce Intersection Collisions Nationwide
I grew up and obtained my driver’s license in New Jersey, so I’m very familiar with the roadway design known as a “jug handle.” Although a few other states use them as well, the design is primarily associated with New Jersey. A jug handle allows drivers to make a left turn at an intersection controlled by a traffic light by having them turn right off the main road onto a sort of access road, then turn left onto the crossroad, and wait for a green light to drive back across the main road. The effect is the same as turning left from the main road onto the crossroad.
Advantages of the Jug Handle
One advantage of the jug handle is that it eliminates traffic backing up at an intersection as the left-turning driver waits for traffic to clear in order to make his turn. It also eliminates the need for a dedicated left turn lane and left turn green arrows, which increase the waiting time for drivers on both the main road and the crossroad. Along the same lines is the turn known as a “Michigan left” in which drivers drive through the intersection, passing over the cross street on which they wish to turn left, and move into a u-turn lane shortly past the intersection. The drivers then wait for the oncoming traffic to clear, complete the u-turn, and then turn right onto the cross street in their intended direction. Beyond moving traffic more quickly through the intersection itself, the advantage of the jug handle and the Michigan left is that they also tend to reduce the number of collisions at an intersection.
The Danger of Left Hand Turns in Intersections
A 2010 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) showed that nearly 36% of all collisions took place at intersections and that the single largest cause of collisions at intersections were vehicles making left turns. Overall, one-fifth of collisions were caused by vehicles making left turns. It’s only common sense to conclude that eliminating left turns would improve safety at intersections, with the added benefit of moving traffic through the intersection more efficiently.
To address these concerns, streets termed “superstreets” are being tried in some areas. Superstreets upend the traditional methods of moving through an intersection by eliminating both left turns and the movement of vehicles from the crossroad directly across the main road. A study by the North Carolina State University found that superstreet intersections experience an average of 46% fewer reported automobile collisions, and 63% fewer collisions that result in personal injury. Superstreets are also environmentally friendly in that they eliminate the need for vehicles to sit for long periods of time at red lights.
Is the complete elimination of left turns in our future? Almost certainly not, but it seems plausible that civil engineers will be striving to develop more ways to reduce traffic back-ups and move vehicles through intersections more efficiently. Anyone who’s had the dubious pleasure of trying to turn left from Broad Street in downtown Richmond or navigate Route 7 near Tysons Corner will surely appreciate any efforts to streamline his or her travel.
About The Author: Tammy Ruble is a personal injury attorney with the law firm of Allen & Allen in Richmond, Virginia. She is focused on assisting the entire legal team with the early stages of the litigation process. She has been an attorney with Allen & Allen since 1984 when she graduated from law school.
 An aerial photo of a jug handle can be found here: http://www.state.nj.us/transportation/commuter/roads/route1pilot/images/harrison1.jpg
 For a more detailed explanation and a diagram depicting the Michigan left, see http://www.michiganhighways.org/indepth/michigan_left.html