The Debunker: Do UPS Drivers Never Turn Left?

by Ken Jennings

December is a month full of festive observances, but one of the most important often gets overlooked: National Impaired Driving Prevention Month! Between all the holiday merrymaking and the terrible road conditions, it's a pretty good time to think more carefully about our driving. But what if not everything you think you know about the rules of the road is accurate? We have Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings behind the wheel all month to set you straight. Buckle up, check your blind spot, and pull away from the curb when it's safe and legal to do so.

The Debunker: Do UPS Drivers Never Turn Left?

Now that you know you're probably turning left wrong it's time to consider the real existential question: should you be turning left at all?

The Debunker

A 2007 article in The New York Times Magazine brought public attention, for the first time, to an odd-sounding corporate policy at UPS. The company's new "package flow" software system, designed to streamline routes and save fuel, validated the company's longstanding policy of avoiding left turns where possible. In other words, taking three rights will almost always get a UPS truck through an intersection faster than idling in a left turn lane. The change is much safer too, since turning across traffic is one of the most dangerous things you can do in a car (or boxy brown truck). The NHTSA says that 53.1% of all crossing-path crashes involve left turns, while just 5.7% involve right turns.

But the media delight over this counterintuitive new factoid led it to get misreported time and again. UPS drivers still turn left all the time—but they only do so when traffic is light, or there's no efficient workaround, or both. In general, the company found that driving was most efficient when lefts made up ten percent of its turns. That's still pretty impressive, but it's not an outright ban. If you see a UPS truck, turning left, it's not some rogue truck hijacker at work. The driver is just doing what the software recommended.

Quick Quiz: UPS is headquartered in northern Fulton County, part of the outlying metro area of what major U.S. city?

Ken Jennings is the author of eleven books, most recently his Junior Genius Guides, Because I Said So!, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at ken-jennings.com or on Twitter as @KenJennings.