Preventable or not?

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John anticipated problems with oncoming traffic, but he didn’t take into account an opening door. Could he reasonably have prevented this accident?

John Doe had just stopped for lunch. With his belly full of a burger, fries and a shake, and his glovebox full of Gummy Bears, he slipped into the seat, grabbed second gear, and gently pulled his tractor and flatbed trailer onto Picayune Parkway, heading east. Road conditions were ideal, with sunshine and only moderate traffic. The weather was cool and pleasant, so he cruised with his cab window open.

Things were going well until John stopped at a red light at the intersection of Picayune and 113. He’d pulled toward the left side of his lane to clear a subcompact parked at the curb. There was enough room for him to maneuver around the car without moving over the white line. But across the intersection there was a utility service truck parked near the curb with an aerial platform fully extended. This meant he would have to carefully shift to the left as he passed through the intersection, being sure to avoid challenging vehicles with the right of way in the oncoming lane.

The light changed. John watched as oncoming traffic, bottled up at the crossroads, quickly cleared, giving him a safe opportunity to pass the utility truck. He let up on the clutch and began rolling forward. Before he even had time to shift, he heard through his open window the sound of metal tearing, not to mention loud cursing from a female voice. John stopped his rig, applied the parking brake and got out to survey the damage and meet the angry motorist.

After discussing the situation, it became clear that the driver had opened her door to enter her car on the street side just as John had let up on the clutch and started to move. A slight projection on the trailer of John’s rig had caught the car’s door, shearing it off and nearly scaring the hapless driver to death.

John received a letter from his safety director warning him that the accident had been preventable. He contested the ruling, blaming the car’s driver for foolishly opening the door right against the side of his trailer. He demanded a review by the National Safety Council’s Accident Review Committee.

The committee sided with the fleet safety director. Clearly, they ruled, John should have checked his mirrors – especially his right-side, convex one – before starting out, if only as a check for pedestrians near his trailer. He would then have seen the driver getting ready to enter her vehicle and been in a position to wait for her to close her door before moving out.