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Annie Oakley was a television series in the 1950s. The half-hour show was a highly fictionalized account of the legendary sharpshooter (née Phoebe Ann Mosey) who appeared as a star attraction with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. The executive producer was singing cowboy Gene Autry, who, along with Roy Rogers, made TV westerns popular. Annie’s horse was named Target and her sidekick was Lofty Craig. They lived in Diablo, Arizona. The sheriff was out of town a lot, so each week Annie and Lofty rescued the endangered, rounded up the bad guys, and brought them to justice. They always did so legally and ethically, resisting the urge to take shortcuts when Annie reminded kiddie viewers that “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” Grammarist says her phrase means no one is justified in performing a misdeed simply because someone else did. Some say it’s okay to do wrong if it evens things out (archenemies come to mind), but not our Annie. The expression is credited to Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of the USA’s Declaration of Independence. As the wags like to say, two wrongs don’t make a right but three rights make a left.

Crash data

Fifty years ago, UPS looked at the National Highway Traffic Association highway safety statistics and saw how a study on crash factors showed left turns were 20 times likelier to result in crashes than right turns. The big reason was that left-turning traffic usually has to cross against a flow of oncoming vehicles.

Curious UPS researchers then analyzed the company’s truck routing procedures

In addition to more crashes, just as predicted by the NHTA, they found several other interesting things. Among them, the more left turns delivery drivers made:

  • The more miles they drove.
  • The more time it took to complete their routes.
  • The more fuel their trucks consumed.

Math whizzes figured all this out and showed executives how UPS could have fewer accidents while saving time and fuel by avoiding left turns wherever possible

They wrote the routing programs that calculated the safest and quickest routes for drivers to follow. They continued to improve on the system and now it is done every day for each driver based upon the addresses of the day’s deliveries. Most of the routes require some left turns, but always the fewest number possible. UPS says they make 20 million deliveries a day and their routing software saves the company $400 million a year.

Turn right on red after stop

The law that allowed drivers to turn right on red anywhere in the USA was enacted to decrease exhaust pollution by reducing the amount of time drivers spent waiting at red lights. Drivers were permitted to turn right on red only after making a complete stop and proceeding only when the roadway is clear of pedestrians, cyclists and cars and trucks. Most of the accidents that happen when people turn right on red occur when drivers don’t make that required full stop. So many of these accidents involve pedestrians and cyclists that there is a growing movement to ban cars from ever turning right on red.

The law was made nationwide during the gasoline crisis of the early 1970s

In 1973, OPEC cut supply and raised prices for all of the Western world, creating a panic. All of a sudden it was hard to buy gas. People sat in long lines waiting their turn at the pump. sometimes for hours, often to find the station had run out of gas before they could get there. Some outlets limited the number of gallons you could purchase; others restricted sales by your license plate number. Those with license plates ending in odd numbers could only buy gas on odd-numbered days and even-numbered plates on even-numbered days.

55 Saves Lives

That was the slogan in 1974 when President Nixon signed a law setting the national speed limit at 55 mph on all Interstate highways. One promise was that the USA would save 200,000 barrels of fuel every day. The other was that the lower speeds would save lives. The Cato Institute studied the effects of the 55 mph speed limit and found that the country’s safety record was worse than before. It was 30 years before the pre-gas crisis speed limits were restored.

C.A.F.E. standards

In 1975, the federal government acted by establishing Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards for the American auto industry. Within little more than a decade, as fuel prices tripled, the average fuel economy for U.S. vehicles rose by more than 80%.

The Cannonball Run

The Cannonball Run was a 1981 film made about eccentric competitors in an illegal high-speed race across the USA. It was based on an actual unsanctioned event, run in the 1970s from the Red Ball Garage in NYC to the Portofino Inn in Redondo Beach. The race had no prize money and only one rule: “All competitors will drive any vehicle of their choosing, over any route, at any speed they judge practical, between the starting point and destination. The competitor finishing with the lowest elapsed time is the winner.”

Car and Driver magazine’s writer Brock Yates and editor Steve Smith thought it up as a protest against the 55-mph federal speed limit imposed on all highways during the first gas crisis. They called it the Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash. They named it in honor of George “Cannonball” Baker, a motorcycle and automobile racer who got his nickname from the Cannonball Express, the steam locomotive driven by folklore hero Casey Jones. In 1915, Cannonball Baker drove a Stutz Bearcat from Los Angeles to New York City in 11 days, 7 hours, and 15 minutes. In 1933, this time driving a Graham-Paige Model 57 Blue Streak 8, he set a record that stood until the Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash came along. When Yates and Le Mans winner Dan Gurney won in a Ferrari by covering 2,863 miles in 35 hours and 54 minutes, Gurney said “At no time did we exceed 175 miles per hour.”


Most UPS drivers believed the routing software was making their trips longer until they were shown data from their trips. This is a fine example of things not always being what they seem. It’s also a fine example of how good business decisions are based on good evidence, not opinions.

Satellite navigation packages on your phone and in your car choose the straightest route – not the safest or the most efficient. Next time you head out to run errands in your car, open up an overhead map view and figure out the route that has the fewest left turns. Follow it and you’re 20 times likelier to return home safely, while saving time and money, too.

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