Preventable or not? Driver’s U-turn goes awry

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Updated Feb 10, 2021
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Burping from a free yogurt smoothie awarded by Bubba’s Truck Stop for buying 150 gallons of fuel, tractor-trailer driver John Doe was eastbound on a four-lane turnpike near Greensboro, N.C. It was 10 p.m., the sky was heavily overcast, and the turnpike was as dark as the inside of his diesel’s crankcase. In preparation for making a U-turn at the intersection with Grits Road, which was dead ahead, Doe moved into the left lane, actuated his left-side flashers and started to brake.

By the time Doe had stopped at the intersection, the traffic signal in his lane was red. That gave Doe time to extract a celery stalk from his survival rations, adjust the bass on his satellite radio and glance at the adjacent lane via his right-side West Coast and convex mirrors, which at that time revealed nothing.

Seconds later, while the traffic light still was red, Tommy “The Duke” Gripley became weary of staring at the rear of Doe’s trailer and began maneuvering his dark blue 1957 “Heavy Chevy” – 327 with multiple Holley carbs, column-mounted Sun tach and four-on-the-floor Hurst – into the right lane, next to Doe’s saddle tank. When the light turned green, Doe quickly started to turn, his rig extending into the right lane to complete the maneuver when … Sproing! Oh no! His trailer’s ICC bar had encountered the Chevy’s left front fender!

Because Doe contested the preventable-accident warning letter from his safety director, the accident was turned over to the National Safety Council’s Accident Review Committee. NSC upheld the preventable ruling, concluding that – despite Doe’s claim that the Heavy Chevy had materialized from thin air – Doe had not checked his mirrors adequately. Also, attempting a wide U-turn at a dark intersection on a high-speed road wasn’t exactly a safety-award-winning idea, either.