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Eliminating left-hand turns for trucks is the right thing to do

Written by Steve Gursten Posted March 10th, 2017

If trucking companies and truck drivers stopped making ‘left-hand turns,’ they would eliminate a ‘critical pre-crash event’ in 22.2% of motor vehicle accidents; 61% of truck accidents in intersections ‘involve left turns’

Eliminating left turns, preventing truck accidents

Left-hand turns are three times more likely to cause a pedestrian’s death than are right-hand turns.

It’d be nice if UPS’s motivation was preventing truck accidents.

But the fact that UPS’s policy against left-hand turns was driven by the company’s goal of improving fuel and delivery efficiency and reducing emissions doesn’t take away from the undeniable and very welcome effect of making our roads more safe.

As an attorney who focuses on serious truck wrecks, I applaud UPS and its policy of “favoring right-hand turns at all times – unless a left is unavoidable.”

I just wish all trucking companies and commercial carriers would join UPS and most of the trucking industry today in calling left hand turns “mistakes” – just as JJ Keller, a leader in the trucking industry, says in the teaching materials it publishes for truckers and trucking companies.

In its story, “Why UPS trucks (almost) never turn left,” CNN reports:

  • “Left-hand turns are generally considered unsafe …”
  • “A study on crash factors in intersection-related accidents from the US National Highway Traffic Safety Association shows that turning left is one of the leading ‘critical pre-crash events’ (an event that made a collision inevitable), occurring in 22.2 percent of crashes, as opposed to 1.2 percent for right turns. About 61 percent of crashes that occur while turning or crossing an intersection involve left turns, as opposed to just 3.1 percent involving right turns.”
  • “Left turns are also three times more likely to kill pedestrians than right ones, according to data collected by New York City’s transportation planners.”

Left turns should be prohibited based on federal and state safety requirements for truck drivers who hold  commercial driver’s license (CDL)

The CDL manual also addresses left turns in Section 2, where it provides the following warning to truckers:

“Before you start across a road, make sure you can get all the way across before traffic reaches you.”

These are all compelling reasons for a company safety policy that prohibits truckers from making left turns.  In fact, many of the leading companies in the commercial transport industry already have them.

But as any  attorney who helps people injured by big trucks will tell you, a compelling safety reason  is not why most companies will adopt a policy.  Instead, it’s almost always a dollars and cents calculation that drive trucking companies. When decisions that save money or make money also improve safety, well … that’s a bonus.

Sadly, saving money  appears to be the reason with UPS’s left turn policy, not public safety and less wrecks:

“UPS started avoiding left turns in the 1970s, when it came up with a method called ‘loop dispatch,’ plotting deliveries in a right-turning loop and starting with one side of the street first. … In 2008, it launched a routing software to calculate the best possible route for each truck while favoring right-hand turns,” which “saves the company $300 to $400 million annually in fuel, wages and vehicle running costs.”

Steven Gursten Photo

About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.