Time to Outlaw the Left Turn?

Image from the North Carolina DOT

Down with the left!

While that’s a fairly common sentiment on the political stage right now, I’m not talking politics. I’m talking turning, baby.

When you think about it, left turns don’t make any sense and should be illegal. The idea of turning left across traffic at busy intersections is quite insane, especially considering all that protects you from oncoming out-of-control lunatics is a softly glowing red light.

If turning left were outlawed, how would drivers cope in a right-turn-only world? Keep reading for more.

Traffic engineers in Europe are well aware of the left-turn problem and have solved it through an efficient (though slightly infuriating) network of roundabouts. Such traffic control strategies never caught on in the States, but now things may be starting to change.

There’s no doubt that left turns increase the risk of accidents and waste more fuel. The route-planning masters at FedEx and UPS have even designed their delivery routes to limit the number of left turns made by their trucks.

It sounds crazy, but turning left really should be illegal. If roundabouts aren’t the answer here, maybe so-called “superstreets” are. A superstreet forces drivers to either turn right or make a U-turn, and then turn right, in order to go left.

It sounds like it would be maddening, but according to a Smithsonian article, researchers at North Carolina State University have found that the superstreet design is actually more efficient and safer than allowing drivers to make the dangerous across-traffic left turn.

“The study shows a 20 percent overall reduction in travel time compared to similar intersections that use conventional traffic designs,” says NCSU engineering professor Joe Hummer, one of the researchers who conducted the study. “We also found that superstreet intersections experience an average of 46 percent fewer reported automobile collisions—and 63 percent fewer collisions that result in personal injury.”

No stop lights and a steady flow of traffic certainly sounds good, especially considering the fuel savings and reduced risk of accidents. It seems like backups could still happen, though, as people wait to make a safe U-turn. Address that concern and I think we’ve got it!

A life without the left? I think it’s time to start heading that direction. Do you agree?


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  1. Actually the streets that have the ‘Michigan Left’ turns handle far more traffic more efficiently than those who have left turn lights. Look at traffic volumes for Las Vegas Blvd and M-53 in Sterling Heights, MI. Both handle around the same traffic but compare average speeds. M-53 has very few times where it’s bumper to bumper but LV BLVD is always bumper to bumper.

  2. The “Michigan Left Turn” is a colossal scam perpetrated on the public by the road building community. How the hell can you improve travel time and reduce accidents by making all the left turn traffic go through the intersection twice and perform to left turns and one right turn instead of one left turn? Simply designing intersections and traffic light systems properly is the answer. The Michigan Left Turn is the first resort of the incompetent highway designer. (Most of whom seem to want to get jobs in Michigan, the worst roads in the nation.)

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