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More often than not, those with a fear for left turns would welcome the sight of this sign.Prasit Rodphan/Getty Images/iStockphoto

They say you shouldn't judge people by the cars they drive. As someone who drives both a Dodge Grand Caravan and a Toyota Camry, I couldn't agree more. Don't judge me by my ride (if you really must, go ahead. I can live with your contempt). If you really want to judge me, I say judge me by my ability to execute a left turn. In fact, judge everyone by their ability to make a left turn.

After all, the left is all we have left.

The left turn is the new low rung on the driving ladder, the minimum standard of proficiency. We used to expect motorists to know how to parallel park, but this skill seems to be fleeting. Drivers now learn how to parallel for their driver's exam and then promptly forget it. After a few years, it wears off. Cast an eye around any street and all you see are cars nosing into spaces or tantric examples of botched parallel parking. Expecting the majority to be masters of the move is like expecting most people to know the words to our national anthem or to wash their hands after sneezing. Some dreams are just too lofty.

But surely every sentient being would agree that the average driver should know how to properly execute a left turn at an intersection.

Let's look at the benefits. Left turns:

  • Allow you to go left.
  • Allow you to head in the opposite direction of right.
  • Allow you to vary and alter your journey such that you aren’t going in a loop.

Left turns are what an auto manufacturer would call "an essential part of the driving experience." You can't drive without making at least one. They are so important they have their own universal traffic signal, known internationally as the "left turn signal." It can be identified by its iconic design – a green arrow pointing left that tells the driver "You. Go. Left. Now."

And yet, despite all these obvious advantages, the roads are full of examples of bad left turns.

There are two main kinds of bad left-turners: cowards and daredevils. The left-turn coward is consumed by catastrophic thinking, certain that the left he is making will lead to destruction. He creeps into the intersection and succumbs to paralysis. The oncoming traffic is a deadly horde straight out of Mad Max. No amount of cushion is enough to make him feel safe. He waits until the light has gone from green to amber to red and then a few more seconds before making his left and leaving all those behind him steaming.

The daredevil suffers from the opposite affliction. When the light turns from red to green he slams on the gas and bolts out before the oncoming traffic can make it through the intersection. In the U.S., this trick is known variously as making a "Boston left," "Jersey left," "Rhode Island left" and "Pittsburgh left." In Canadian cities such as Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, it's known as "making a left."

Even when you make a proper left turn, the experience is not without its stressors. For instance, whenever you make a left turn, it is almost mandatory that there be an idiot behind you pounding away on his horn. You are turning left and waiting for pedestrians to cross but, to him, this is irrelevant. He blows his horn, essentially encouraging you to run over innocent people. According to this belligerent fool, you're being a prude for not mowing them down.

Sadly, making proper left turns, like parallel parking, may one day become a lost art. We are being encouraged to avoid them. For instance, in 2004 United Parcel Service (UPS) decided to have its drivers, if not eliminate, then at least minimize, their left-hand turns and instead perform "right-hand loops." The UPS brain trust believed that it would be safer, quicker and more efficient for a driver to make three rights rather than one left. UPS has reported that since 2004 the company has "saved an estimated 10 million gallons of gas." Its "carbon emissions were reduced by 100,000 metric tons – the equivalent of 5,300 cars off the road for an entire year."

Pretty soon, all we'll have left is going right.

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