• Jan 14, 2011
If you sit down and think about it, the notion of making a left turn across oncoming traffic at a stoplight is pretty absurd. All that stands between you and certain oblivion is the hope that other drivers headed your direction are obeying the speed limit and paying enough attention to notice when the light turns red.

Traffic engineers have known for years that hanging a left increases the likelihood of an accident and wastes fuel. The minds at UPS have even gone so far as to design their delivery routes with fewer left turns, and transportation departments all over the country have adopted so-called "superstreets" that force drivers to make a right and then a U-turn in order to go left or straight.

Sound absurd? Think again. According to Smithsonian Magazine, researchers at North Carolina State University have found that the superstreet design is more efficient and safer than allowing drivers to turn across traffic. After examining data from 13 superstreet intersections and comparing them to their traditional counterparts, researchers found that, on average, the superstreets delivered a 20-percent decrease in travel time and caused 46 percent fewer reported traffic collisions. More importantly, the superstreet design caused 63-percent fewer accidents that resulted in personal injury.

There's some food for thought the next time you're hanging a left.

[Source: Smithsonian Magazine | Image: North Carolina Department of Transportation]


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  • 161 Comments
      • 4 Years Ago
      Left turns are unsafe, yet, u-turns are safe?

      In rush hour, you'll wait...and wait...and wait...to go the direction you need to go. All while burning a petroleum product of some sort. In lighter traffic, someone taking a slow u-turn while misjudging the oncoming traffic sounds like an interesting YouTube clip.

      I'd wager that their 'tests' and 'studies' didn't take into account people might all together avoid such streets, cost+50% (construction is never within budget in my bankrupt state), and how local businesses would fight something like this happening in front of their investment. Streets would have to become wider right? Eminent domain is a cruel mistress.

      Sounds great on paper...probably will cost a fortune and do little to make the streets safer in reality.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Actually, it works great in real life - the problem with the diagram is that it's not like a typical Michigan Left. A normal Michigan Left allows cross traffic to go through the main artery. So there are synchronized stop lights to stop the main artery to allow the cross traffic to pass, and U-turns to be completed. When it works, it works.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Anybody else notice that in order to cross the main road from a side street, you have to cut through 2 lanes to make it to the U-Turn, then through 2 more lanes to make the right.

      Stupid?
      • 3 Years Ago
      "Oh.. help me.. I'm SO afraid to drive!!!" If you're that paranoid that you can't realize that the traffic coming has/or hasn't stopped, you shouldn't be out there DRIVING! Try using a little attention... a little common sense... and a little INTELLIGENCE and we won't have to spend millions so that you don't HAVE TO!
      • 4 Years Ago
      Here in NJ, almost all highways that have a 55mph or higher speed limit, use jughandles.
      While not always as fast as just making a left, i do certainly feel safer.
      Especially since all are highways are getting center barriers that you can't always see over or around. Which is also good because we are preventing on coming wrecks.
      • 4 Years Ago
      No one has mentioned the New Orleans left that works very well. Go straight through, hang a u, then turn right. Just past every intersection there is a place to make a u-turn through the netrual ground.
      • 3 Years Ago
      @Mark-roundabouts cause more accidents and are way more dangerous than Michigan lefts. The only problem with the Michigan left is the oncoming traffic. People in Michigan speed like every road is the Indy 500 Speedway. 90-100 mph is not uncommon and at that speed, people run red lights. Others don't stop when making the turn and just pull out into oncoming traffic. Just drive in metro Detroit for a day and you won't like the Michigan left.
      tom
      • 3 Years Ago
      i would rather make a left turn with a53 ft semi then a right turn ,since the right turn would leave me with a blind side, and the way people drive today ,theres always someone trying to get by you on the right.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I don't believe any of their data.

      When I lived in Detroit, nearly every major accident I saw was at a Michigan left turnaround.
      • 4 Years Ago
      This could be easily solved with a two lane roundabout, why try and confuse people with this crap.
      • 4 Years Ago
      John H- I miss the SF street design. It is so much more efficient than my current city of Washington. Here in DC people can make left hand turns all over and traffic backs up for blocks. SF did not have "superstreets," but the end effect is similar.
      • 4 Years Ago
      aren't you making a left-handed turn when you make the u-turn? so you're still turning left!! AND probably cutting people off from the opposite direction while you make your u-turn. like Jason mentioned, people need to focus on paying attention to driving when driving.
        • 4 Years Ago
        BUT you're in the middle of the street, not at a high traffic junction.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Left turns SHOULD BE OUTLAWED for the idiots that don't know what to do in order to make them!
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