In my 25 years of investigating collisions and traffic related incidents, one thing I have noticed repeatedly is that right turns are considerably better than lefts. I know it is obvious and sometimes seems a little petty; however, when it comes to the safety of your family, it is a big deal. Since I am currently in the process of teaching my second child how to drive, I am harping on vehicle safety a lot and this is one of the many practices I teach. I have instilled in my children (and my wife has picked up on it as well) that they should always plan out their route and, in doing so, make right turns instead of lefts whenever possible. The “Right Turn Only” practice will make your travels safer.
I am not the first to preach this concept. In 2004, UPS engineers completed a study on the no left turns practice and have implemented it into their daily driven deliveries (well, as few left turns as possible). In 2010, Myth Busters also tested the “Right Turn Only” theory in their “Right Turn Only MiniMyth” and concluded that drivers making right turns instead of lefts clearly resulted in safer operations and less fuel consumption.
Here are the reasons you should plan your route to make right turns:
When you stop to wait on traffic, you are not making any progress and you are waiting on time to pass. Depending on your surrounding traffic, and if you are lucky enough to have a designated left turn lane, you could be sitting for a while waiting on your opportunity to turn. If you go through several light cycles it can really seem like forever. When turning right, you are still going to stop at stop signs and traffic lights and in traffic itself; however, you’re not sitting as long because you’re not often waiting on opposing traffic before you can move. Take a four way stop for example, a right turn can go before or with opposing traffic in two out of three scenarios (oncoming traffic turning right or continuing straight) while a left turn must wait in all three scenarios.
An idling vehicle is burning fuel and spewing emissions, costing money and causing pollution; yet it is not advancing towards a destination. The amount of fuel used at idle waiting for a left turn is small. If you add up several left turns resulting in several minutes of waiting, the amount of fuel used is noticeable, especially if you travel often. In the UPS Pressroom article “When Left Is Right”, UPS states that since 2004, turning right along with other efficiency-optimizing efforts, results in around 10 million gallons of gas saved each year and reduced emissions equivalent to taking thousands of cars off the road for a year.
The biggest benefit is the safety of my family. When you eliminate the left turn, you significantly reduce the opportunity for accidents. Logistically looking at the left turn, your vehicle must occupy the center of the roadway while you wait for or maneuver through the action of turning left. This obviously puts your vehicle potentially in the intersection waiting to turn, you potentially are or will be in the path of vehicles approaching from both sides. As much as we like to think others are paying attention, people run through traffic lights or fail to maintain their lane, or just do crazy things causing crashes. If you’re turning left, you are center stage for the action as you wait or navigate your turn. Add to this that you must gauge traffic by guessing the distance plus estimating speeds to determine if you can make the turn safely when you “shoot the gap.” The most dangerous part is that you are presenting the passenger’s side of the vehicle to oncoming traffic as you turn across opposing lanes. According to a 2010 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (DOT HS 811 366), 22.2% of collisions at an intersection involved a left turn, while only 1.2% involved right turns. A crash results in loss of time and money even without injuries.
The Orion Software used by UPS plots their delivery routes and removes unnecessary left turns. Google’s navigation software Waze was introduced equipped with a new routing feature that helps avoid difficult left turn situations in large areas or in areas where a problem has been identified. If it is available with your GPS, make sure you have this feature on when you travel, especially in unfamiliar areas.
Start planning your route to reduce left turns. While you’re planning, make sure you’re not driving extra miles or backtracking to get things done. Save time, save money, reduce pollution, and reduce risks.
Aaron (Al) Duncan II, ACTAR, is a vehicle collision reconstructionist with Warren and President of SCARS. Prior to joining Warren, he worked for 23 years as a South Carolina Highway Patrol Trooper to include 10 years as a Multi-Disciplinary Accident Investigation Team (M.A.I.T.) member. Al is accredited as a Traffic Accident Reconstructionist by The Accreditation Commission for Traffic Accident Reconstruction. He investigated in excess of 1000 vehicle accidents and incidents, as a trooper. Then, as a member of M.A.I.T. for 10 years, he was involved in over 1000 detailed investigations and collision reconstructions. Al has testified multiple times in state courts and he has been court qualified as an expert in accident investigation and collision reconstruction. Al’s work expertise focuses on investigating and reconstructing vehicle collisions involving single and multi-vehicles, animals, pedestrians, motorcycles, heavy trucks, and commercial vehicles. He is also a skilled user of forensic mapping technology and computerized collision diagramming software for collision scene analysis. Al is experienced in the data download and analysis of airbag black boxes (Crash Data Retrieval Units) in automobiles, pickup trucks, and SUVs. He holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Political Science from Lander University in Greenwood, South Carolina and completed the Law Enforcement Basic Program at the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy in Columbia, South Carolina.