Preventable or not?

It was 6:30 a.m. as John Doe brought his premium tractor-trailer to a stop in the left lane of a four-lane street in the center of a tiny Mississippi town. To take advantage of the brief break from driving worries, he took a sip of his steaming coffee.

John experienced a moment of happy complacency as he realized the sun was coming up and was going to shine that day, that the roads were dry, and that he could hear birds singing. And, there was the sound of country music.

The latter awakened his smart driver instincts, making him wary. He told himself he needed to know where the music was coming from. He quickly consulted the convex mirror on the right side door, as well as its small lower window, and found a battered, old Ford pickup in the lane to his right. He could see that its front bumper was well behind his. The driver looked a bit independent, sporting a few days’ whiskers and a cowboy hat, and he was gunning his engine. “OK,” he thought to himself, ‘The guy looks a little wild. But I’ve got him in my sights.’

As the light changed, John snagged second gear and gently eased his fully loaded vehicle away from the light. The pickup driver experienced a moment of inattention, delaying his start until a few seconds after John hit third. As John began to get up through the gears, he looked ahead and saw that the roadway would soon revert to the two-lane blacktop common between towns in these parts. The sequence of events didn’t begin to bother him until he heard the roar of the gas engine and realized that the pickup driver had just put his pedal to the metal.

He briefly thought about slowing his rate of acceleration, but then saw clearly that it was the right lane occupied by the pickup, not the one he was in, that was going to expire. He continued to slip through the gears, one by one, using most of the throttle and enjoying the snappy performance of the high-torque-rise engine kindly supplied by his driver-friendly fleet.

The pickup, meanwhile, continued to accelerate heavily to get ahead of John’s front bumper, with plenty of room before the end of the right lane. As soon as he believed he had cleared the tractor’s front end, the driver of the pickup made a sudden swing to the left. Bam! The corner of the pickup’s bed caught the corner of John’s front bumper. The tally prepared later by the two body shops was $600 to fix the pickup and $400 to slightly straighten and repaint the tractor’s bumper.

Even though the pickup’s driver was cited for an unsafe lane change, John’s safety director warned him in writing that the accident was preventable. Though the driver protested, the National Safety Council upheld the ruling, saying John should have watched the pickup’s actions more carefully and should have been prepared to instantly slow and yield the right of way.