Preventable or not?

Driver John Doe had offloaded a third of his load of 60 cases of Mrs. Jones’ Pecan Pralines at a local coffee shop. He’d safely pulled his combination onto the street behind the establishment, called Lanier Lane, and was now headed south for the next intersection, linking this two-lane back street with a four-lane surface street – State Route 3. Because it was nearly 10:30 a.m., rush hour was over, and traffic was light, most of it obeying the 35-mph speed limit. But John knew the turn onto 3 East could be tricky because there was no traffic light at the intersection. In addition, he needed to watch for traffic in both eastbound lanes of 3.

As John approached the intersection, he took a quick pull on the coffee he’d purchased at his last delivery point to give himself extra energy to make the turn.

As John gently nosed the front of his tractor out just far enough for visibility, he breathed a sigh of relief. A motorist in the nearer lane, seeing a red light some distance ahead, took pity on him and stopped well away from the intersection, yielding the lane to John and his rig, and halting a line of cars behind him. Tempted by this significant opportunity, John let up on the clutch and began to slowly draw an appropriate arc with the left side wheels of his tractor so he’d clear the corner on his right. This required that he intrude slightly into the passing lane or ride the trailer axles over the curb.

John could not see any oncoming traffic in the passing lane, but he could see it was still stopped in the nearer lane. In his haste to act while his friend remained patient, he forgot about the possibility of cars – which might have been obscured behind the traffic stopped by the courteous car driver – moving into the passing lane.

He continued into the turn, looking at his right hand mirror to make sure the trailer was going to clear the corner. Just then, the unmistakable crunch of sheet metal awakened him to the reality of invisible outer lane traffic. A low-slung compact car, driven by a teenager eager to race up to the red light, had collided with the left edge of John’s front bumper.

John later received a warning letter from his fleet safety director. He was unhappy, arguing that the young driver had had plenty of time to stop, based on the fact that John had been able to see there was no traffic for some distance from the intersection. He felt the teenager should not have tried to squeeze past him.

John appealed to the National Safety Council’s Accident Review Committee and was dismayed when they ruled against him. In this case, whether the car driver had time to stop or not, he had the right of way. And, John should have known that car drivers often attempt to squeeze by a tractor-trailer that’s invading their lane, even when there isn’t enough room.