Tennessee is banning trucks longer than 30 feet from using a twisty stretch of U.S. Route 129 that is known as The Dragon.
The truck ban is welcome news to motorcyclists and sports car enthusiasts who travel long distances to experience the mountain road famous for its 318 curves in 11 miles along the western edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Ron Johnson, the owner of the Tail of the Dragon gift store near Robbinsville, North Carolina, called the decision “long overdue” because tractor-trailers pulling through tight turns can block both lanes of traffic and force cars and motorcycles off the road.
“I’ve had three close calls on the Dragon, where I’m in the ditch and can’t get any further over,” he said. “And trucks come through and miss me by an inch.”
While trucks have been banned from the North Carolina side of the road for a few years, Tennessee until now only posted signs warning truckers of switchback turns on the route.
“They’d say, well it can’t be that bad, and it’s another 100 miles to go around,” said Johnson, who has in the past taken it upon himself to ride his motorcycle out ahead of trucks to warn oncoming traffic.
“We didn’t hold this against the truckers because they didn’t know,” he said.
State records show of the 1.4 million vehicles that traversed the Tennessee side of the Dragon between 2010 and 2012, there were total of 204 crashes – with motorcycles making up 82 percent of them.
Six of those wrecks resulted in fatalities, including one involving a tractor-trailer. The riders who died on the serpentine road ranged in ages from 24 to 62.
Accidents involving trucks usually cause the road to be blocked for several hours because of its curvy and narrow nature, according to the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
Johnson said that while the Dragon draws enthusiasts from around the country and as far away as South America and the Far East to experience stretches of the road known as “The Whip,” “Revenuer’s Straight” and the “Gravity Cavity,” the continued presence of trucks has kept some from making their trip – and spending their tourist dollars.
“People contact me all the time wanting to know if they still allow trucks on the Dragon, because they’re not going to come if they still do,” he said.
Signs detailing the new truck ban will be installed in mid-January.
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