Preventable or not?

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John Doe was driving a tractor-trailer on a pickup and delivery run in a suburban area. He knew such runs could be fraught with trouble because of close quarters. So, he resolved to stay on the lookout, and popped another gummy bear in his mouth to make sure he’d stay alert.

As he approached his delivery point, he noted that he would have to turn right into a narrow driveway with trees on either side of the entrance to reach the warehouse. He downgeared approaching the drive, peering ahead for a gap in the traffic in the opposing lane for swing room. When he saw there was plenty of open space, he looked in his left side mirror to make sure there was nobody trying to pass, then shifted the tractor first to the left, and then to the right, guiding it carefully into the turn. The trailer axles cleared the curb, and he and his combination entered the driveway smoothly.

He proceeded cautiously up the drive at the bottom of third gear in his 10-speed, carefully centering the combination in the lane. Though a cedar tree’s branches gently brushed the right side mirror, the trip up the lane was otherwise uneventful. When he reached the loading dock turntable, he realized the facility was closed. Worse, someone had left one of the receiver’s trucks parked at the dock, meaning he couldn’t turn around.

He backed up until he was near the trees, then stopped, popped the parking brake buttons out, and climbed down the steps. He flagged down two friendly motorists who were willing to guide him and signal oncoming traffic to stop so he could back out.

Back in the saddle, he slipped his tractor into back ’em up gear, watched the mirrors, and gently let up on the clutch, idling his way to the rear at less than 3 mph. Watching both mirrors but with most of his focus on the left one, he intently prepared to spin the wheel and shove the trailer into the right arc to get cleanly into the road.

Just then, he heard those cedar branches against the door again, and then a metallic clunk. He stopped immediately, applied the parking brake, and jumped out to find a bent mirror bracket and dimpled right side door. He then cut the wheel, moved ahead to release the branch’s hold on his tractor, and realigned tractor and trailer a bit to the left for a smooth trip down the drive and onto the road.

Given his caution in using two guides, and the tight quarters, the fleet’s operations supervisor declared the accident non-preventable. However, because the damaged door and mirror ended up costing over $500, as a matter of routine practice, the fleet’s safety director asked the National Safety Council’s Accident Review Committee for its opinion.

The committee reversed the operations manager’s decision, declaring the accident preventable. Their opinion read, “The driver saw the tree when he drove in. If he had been more observant, he would have seen it when backing out.”