Be careful making left turns; you might need an exorcism

Left turns make me nervous. You may think it’s because I’m a fairly conservative guy, but the real reasons are far more rooted in physics.

Dave Millhouser

My recent tome on right-hand turns failed to generate any personal threats, so it seemed safe to move on to the dreaded left turn.

Assuming you didn’t memorize the right-turn article, it bears repeating that a number of sophisticated European cities severely limit, or outright ban, left turns. They apparently feel that they’re either unsafe or disrupt traffic flow.

We red-blooded Americans can’t be bothered with such things.

Negotiating a left turn safely requires some effort, but your insurer would tell you it is worth it.

First, make sure that the crossroad you’re approaching allows them. There are intersections where they’re not permitted, either for traffic reasons or because a city wishes to appear more “European.”

You’ll want to look for signs and traffic signals that give you a hint. On occasion they are cleverly concealed and sometimes have designated time periods when turns are allowed. Who knew there’d be math?

Signs can hide in many places: behind trees, next to stoplights or my personal favorite, arrows painted on the street.

Once you’ve determined that you are going to “hang a left,” you might want to peek through the windshield to see if anything is coming at you in the opposing lane. I’m kidding because you do that, but sometimes we wait long enough to lose track of oncoming traffic or someone pulls into the lane from a secret hiding place.

We’ve got a ton of new electronic safety thingys, but to the best of my knowledge none of them does diddly to prevent you from turning into the path of a stealth vehicle.

It is difficult to accurately judge the speed of oncoming traffic, particularly large trucks. They seem to get to you faster than you’d expect. In sports, a tie is acceptable, but in traffic somehow it is accompanied by loud noises and the big guy always makes out best. When in doubt, wait him out.

This is true at rail crossings too, and it is a more serious situation because locomotives rarely swerve to avoid you.

Waiting for traffic to pass, it’s easy to succumb to the temptation to begin turning the steering wheel to the left. Bad idea. If something nails you from behind, you may be nudged (or rammed) into the path of oncoming traffic.

Keep the wheel aimed straight and you only have one rear end accident. If you turned that sucker to the left, you may slide into a “twofer.”

Another phenomenon associated with left-hand turns is the frequently fatal “second train syndrome.” You may have seen it on reality videos of rail-crossing disasters, but anything trains can do, we can do better.

You’re waiting at a traffic light (wheels straight, because you studied the earlier paragraph) and what looks like the last oncoming truck thunders on by. You spin the wheel left, mash the throttle and get clobbered by a car in the far lane that was hiding behind the truck.

The bright side is that, if you’re nailed by an oncoming car while in the middle of a left turn, it will hit the passenger side of the bus. You should be OK.  If, on the other hand, you’re hit by a truck, all bets are off. In practical terms, being struck by either might degrade your passengers’ willingness to tip.

Right-hand turns offer opportunities to stalk pedestrians even while they are on the sidewalk. Due to a longer turning radius, hunting them is more difficult in the left-hand mode.

Jaywalkers are frequently difficult moving targets and are alert to their surroundings. Keep an eye out for strays with their faces buried in smartphones, or older folks who don’t hear or see well. It can be entertaining watching them scramble to avoid being scrambled.

I once flew to Jamaica, a former British colony. When I got to the rental car, it appeared that someone had put the steering wheel on the wrong side. After ruminating briefly, it occurred to me that Jamaicans not only speak metric, they drive on the wrong side of the road (it seemed important to get “rumination” into an anecdote about Jamaica).

The first thing you encounter leaving the Montego Bay airport is a “roundabout” — the sophisticated British term for “left turn demolition derby.”

Getting on was fairly easy, but I did more orbits than John Glenn before managing to exit. Apparently the British Empire hasn’t entirely forgiven us for the Revolutionary War.

Driving on the left side never got completely comfortable, but one benefit was that it made me think about turns. When you do them correctly, your head swivels like Linda Blair’s in “The Exorcist.”

Dave Millhouser is a bus-industry marketing consultant and freelance writer. Contact him by email at

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