By Chuck Woodbury
I likely “got you” with that headline, but rest assured you are not the first to fall for this urban legend. It’s made the rounds in emails for decades and more recently via social media. A version of it arrived in my inbox yesterday, prompting this article.
The fact is, it’s a bunch of baloney — totally false. If someone emails it to you or posts it on Facebook, respond by saying you had a good laugh but the story is fabricated. It goes like this:
“In November 2000, Mr. Grazinski purchased a brand-new 32-foot Winnebago motorhome. On his first trip home, having joined the freeway, he set the cruise control at 70 mph and calmly left the driver’s seat to go into the back to make a cup of coffee.
“Not surprisingly, the Winnie left the freeway, crashed and overturned. Mr. Grazinski sued Winnebago for not advising him in the handbook that he could not actually do this. He was awarded $1,750,000 plus a new Winnebago.”
The legend reappeared in 2009.This time it was Mrs. Grazinski:
“Mrs. Merv Grazinski, of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, purchased new 32-foot Winnebago motorhome. On her first trip home, from an OU football game, having driven on to the freeway, she set the cruise control at 70 mph and calmly left the driver’s seat to go to the back of the Winnebago to make herself a sandwich. Not surprisingly, the motorhome left the freeway, crashed and overturned. Also not surprisingly, Mrs. Grazinski sued Winnebago for not putting in the owner’s manual that she couldn’t actually leave the driver’s seat while the cruise control was set. The Oklahoma jury awarded her, are you sitting down? $1,750,000 PLUS a new motorhome. Winnebago actually changed their manuals as a result of this suit, just in case Mrs. Grazinski has any relatives who might also buy a motorhome.”
A variation (there are many):
“This guy saves up his money and finally gets the van he always wanted. Fridge and TV in the back, all the works. He starts driving out on a country road that leads to his home. He sets the van on cruise control and gets out of the driver’s seat and goes into the back to get a beer. The van of course goes off the road, and when the paramedics ask him what happened, he said he thought he had auto-pilot.”
Jan Harold Brunvand, a master of such tall tales, explained this urban legend to Snopes.com:
“The legend began in the late 1970s when cruise control was first available for RVs (which then was the vehicle always featured in this legend). As he says, “Sometimes it was a retired couple that made the dangerous (but never fatal) error with cruise control, otherwise it was a young and naive driver.”