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Harrington: No Left Turn

07/05/11 5:55PM By Elaine Harrington
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(HOST) High price of gas getting you down? Commentator Elaine Harrington describes a simple way to save energy - and avoid accidents - while you're out driving this summer.

(HARRINGTON) Many summer weekends, we head to Chittenden County to do errands, have lunch, visit people, and maybe go sailing. We usually combine things on our trip - for efficiency of time and fuel. The itinerary varies, but there's one thing I can be sure of: If my husband is driving, we will be making mostly right turns.

It has become a little joke recent years: No left turns. Is it a philosophy of life? Is it something unique to New Englanders, or just my husband?

So I decided to research this phenomenon, and found out that there's much to recommend this course of action.

First, I checked the Vermont Driver's Manual and, sure enough, it uses 200 words to describe making a right turn - but 320 words to teach new drivers how to make left turns. And the section begins with this sobering thought: "Many crashes take place when one motor vehicle is turning left."

Then I contacted the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in Washington , D.C. They e-mailed me a 214-page report about collisions, which shows that left turns cause 52% of the crashes at intersections, whereas right turns cause only 6%. That's an eight to one ratio, which has held steady for several years.

If this isn't convincing enough, you could also be swayed by negative linguistic connotations. In Latin, "dextra" means right, and "sinistra" is left. No offense to lefties, like my brother Ron, but somehow "dextrous" sounds better to me than "sinister."

Personal recommendations also weigh in. Dr. John Mazuzan of South Burlington uses a clockwise approach when he attends meetings in Montpelier . He says that it's better for finding a parking space - a fact he learned while growing up in nearby Northfield .

Mazuzan then suggested investigating UPS drivers - who try to make no left turns. That research was very fruitful.

According to recent news reports, UPS plots out its delivery routes to "make as many right turns as possible." Those brown-clad drivers are driving green, since turning right an astonishing 90 percent of the time helps them conserve mileage and fuel. Typical savings: A driver who had a 35-mile route now makes the same deliveries in 30 miles. And the company, which has 92,000 trucks out there delivering things, says that the right-turn philosophy has helped them avoid putting eleven hundred more trucks on the road.

As to left-side habits in other countries - I have to say that while driving in Ireland , I found it unnatural to enter those round-abouts on the left. And bicycling on the left along busy highways in England was terrifying.

So I'm starting to believe that my husband's preferred driving pattern makes sense. And, come to think of it, I recently visited relatives in a big clockwise circle, going from Vermont to Cape Cod to Rhode Island and back.  And then there's how I drive to Montpelier on the interstate and come back on Route 2 ... No left turns.

 
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