Preventable or not?

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It was broad daylight – almost midday – and John Doe’s tractor-trailer was at a standstill, idling, while John waited for a left turn arrow to turn green. He was in the middle of a Midwestern city, sitting with his co-driver at a wide intersection that had two left turn lanes. His shiny cabover tractor and flatbed trailer were in the inside left turn lane, while a dump truck with a long trailer in tow, earthmover aboard, sat in the outside left turn lane.

John had slipped his 9-speed transmission into 1st, and was ready to roll. He glanced to the right and saw the other driver slip the dump job into gear, just after he did. The left arrow came on, John tickled his throttle and gently let up on the clutch, and, simultaneously, the other driver did the same, though he accelerated with great haste. Very soon, both rigs were rounding the corner, but not exactly in harmony! There was a loud “screech,” and John felt a twist in his wheel. He stabbed the brakes, brought his vehicle to a stop and, after setting the parking brake, got out to find the front of his cab had collided with the right/rear of the dump truck’s long trailer.

Almost immediately, an officer of the law happened by on the cross street and saw what had happened. He asked both drivers to move their vehicles to an empty parking lot around the corner so traffic could flow through the intersection and he could write up an accident report. John was infuriated when the officer, who hadn’t observed the vehicles’ positions closely at the accident site, wrote John a citation for causing the accident by straying into the dump truck’s lane. John’s company also charged him with a preventable accident.

John, eager to defend his two decades and one million miles of accident-free driving, hired a lawyer and went to court. Both John and his co-driver, who was in an ideal position to see what had transpired, testified that John had taken the corner in an appropriate arc, while the dump truck’s trailer had intruded on the inside lane, striking John’s tractor.

Fortunately for John, the dump truck driver was honest and admitted he hadn’t even watched his trailer to check its location, and had no way to be certain John was at fault. John was found not guilty.

Acquitted or not, John’s safety director maintained that the accident was preventable. John was angry and insisted that the National Safety Council’s Accident Review committee look over the evidence and rule.

Two of the five committee members agreed with John, saying that “except for the police report, all evidence and testimony supports John Doe’s side of the story.” Sadly for John, the three other members still judged the accident preventable. They claimed John should have hung back for a moment, waiting to enter the turn until the other truck, an articulated vehicle John knew was subject to off-tracking, cleared the lane. Because the majority disagreed with his position, John had to accept the preventable ruling.