Ocean County Senator Jim Holzapfel doesn’t like jughandles. Calling them rush hour “nightmares,” he’s sponsoring a bill (S-207) that would outlaw their construction. The measure, which has been languishing in Trenton for a decade, has caught the attention of the press and appears destined for a hearing.
Whether you love them or hate them, jughandles serve a valid purpose and aren’t just some quirky Jersey invention. As a safety advocate who has been trained to look at the data, I’m a fan. A 5-year study of 94 New Jersey intersections found lower crash rates where motorists made a “loop” versus the traditional “L.” That’s because jughandles help keep traffic flowing on high-speed, high volume roadways. They also eliminate what is proven to be one of the most dangerous maneuvers for novice and older drivers.
For teens behind the wheel, the problem is judging gaps in traffic and the speed of oncoming traffic—they simply don’t do either very well due to inexperience. Older drivers (who are driving and living longer), meanwhile, struggle with left turns because they have slower reaction times and flexibility issues. For this reason, driver training professionals and occupational therapists typically coach seniors to make a series of multiple right turns (essentially a jughandle) rather than a left at a busy intersection to get safely to their destination.
Jughandles also help pedestrians; they reduce the number of lanes those of us traveling on foot must cross. That’s particularly important in New Jersey, where our fatality rate is double the national average. Over the past decade, more than 1,400 pedestrians have died in motor vehicle crashes on the state’s roadways.
Senator Holzapfel, however, doesn’t like jughandles because motorists may have to wait through several light changes before they get to turn left. That doesn’t just happen at jughandles, but at intersections that have dedicated left turning lanes equipped with a green arrow. The problem is we have far more cars on our roadways than lanes to move them.
No one likes to sit in traffic, but if I have to choose between idling at a jughandle intersection that’s proven to be safer for me and everyone else on the road, I’ll gladly do so. Congestion haters may insist they’re wasting time and money making a loop. But when you consider that the annual cost of traffic crashes in our nation ($299.5 billion) is nearly two and half times that of congestion
($121 billion), I’ll take this proven safety countermeasure every time.