UPS Mostly Right

Caitlin Dempsey


Something you don’t see very often is a UPS truck trying to make a left hand turn. 

UPS (United Parcel Service) trucks do not exclusively make right turns, but they do have a routing strategy that prioritizes right turns over left turns, especially in countries where traffic drives on the right side of the road. This policy, known as “loop dispatch” or “right-turn optimization,” was implemented to improve efficiency, reduce fuel consumption, and minimize the time spent waiting for traffic when making left turns across oncoming traffic.

The reasons behind this strategy include:

  1. Safety: Right turns are generally safer, as they don’t require crossing oncoming traffic lanes, which reduces the chances of accidents.
  2. Time efficiency: Making right turns helps drivers avoid waiting for a gap in oncoming traffic or for traffic lights, reducing delays.
  3. Fuel efficiency: Minimizing idle time while waiting to make left turns saves fuel and reduces emissions.

UPS uses advanced algorithms and GPS technology to plan routes for drivers, which helps maximize the number of right turns and reduce overall driving distances. While this method doesn’t completely eliminate left turns, it significantly reduces their frequency, leading to tangible benefits in terms of safety, efficiency, and environmental impact.

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The New York Times Sunday Magazine pointed out that by avoiding left hand turns where reasonable, UPS  “shaved 28.5 million miles off its delivery routes, which has resulted in savings of roughly three million gallons of gas and has reduced CO2 emissions by 31,000 metric tons.” 

UPS uses a proprietary mapping solution they refer to as “package flow” software that maps out the routes of the roughly 95,000 drivers that take to the roads daily to deliver packages.  

The idea of reducing left hand turns when driving is catching on.  The suggestion to make “one right turn after number” was item 45 on Time’s list of “51 Things You Can Do to Make a Difference” that was issued in April 2007 as part of their Global Warming Survival Guide. 

The logistics software used is developed by Roadnet, a division of UPS.  The software has its own website called UPS Logistics Technologies and sells to other companies such as Pepsi.  The underlying mapping software streamlines routes by restricting  and disabling left hand turns when determing routes of drivers.   

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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.