Ask a New Jerseyan: What is a Jughandle?

Road beautiful Aerial View of Busy Intersection at Night .
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New Jersey is a little weird (there's a whole site/book series dedicated to its oddities, after all). It's so weird that there are over 600 instances of the state asking its drivers to turn right when they want to turn left: something that the rest of the country might not be able to wrap its head around. Yes, these types of turns, jughandles, do exist in some other states, but New Jersey, by far, has the most.

How does this work, you ask? Here's the lowdown on "The Jersey Left". 

The Mechanics

You'll know a jughandle is coming up when you see an "All turns from right lane" or "U and left turns" sign. There are three standard types of jughandles, according to The New Jersey Department of Transportation. 

  • "Type A is the standard forward jughandle": You're driving down the highway approaching an intersection where you'll want to turn left. A ramp on the right appears before the intersection, marked by an "All Turns from Right Lane" sign. Take this ramp, curve around, and cross the highway straight-on to your destination (or make a left onto the other side of the highway for a U-turn). This is the most common type of jughandle. 
  • "Type B is a variant with no cross-street intersected by the jughandle; it curves 90 degrees left to meet the main street, and is either used as a "T" intersection or for a U-turn only": Think of this like Type A, except there's no option to go straight through an intersected road. It's an opportunity for a U-turn from both sides. 
  • "Type C is the standard reverse jughandle": This type of jughandle includes the same type of ramp from Type A, except it comes after the intersection in question. You'll loop around to the right and merge with the original cross street at the intersection. These are the types of jughandles that look a little nutty on Google Maps.

Jughandle construction in New Jersey dates back to the 1940s and The New York Times first mentions them in 1959. They were designed to lessen traffic on main roads, but with today's plethora of cars on the road, many drivers aren't fans.

Why They're Great

  • Left-turning vehicles don't clog up the fast lane on many of the state's highways, allowing traffic to move more freely.
  • Drivers who are not turning do not have to wait for the left-turn signals to cycle through before proceeding.
  • Imagine having to make a left turn in front of a three-lane highway. Diverting the traffic around to a street controlled with a traffic light significantly improves safety.
  • What if someone's trying to make a right turn at the same time you're trying to make a left? Jughandles remove the conflict entirely.

    Why They're Not-So-Great

    • While jughandles seem to improve safety overall, the confusion over the turn may actually pose a safety concern for out-of-state drivers or left-lane drivers who might not be paying attention and attempt to skid across multiple lanes to the right in order to make their turn.
    • Some jughandles are just plain too short. Traffic may back up considerably, especially if long trucks are in the mix.
    • Drivers might be tempted to turn right onto the jughandle and then right again onto the original highway to "beat" a red light.