Preventable or not?

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John successfully avoided the piece of lumber, but he didn’t see the manhole cover. Could anyone have prevented this accident?

It was late at night, but John Doe had considerable time to drive before he ran out of hours. He rolled contentedly along a two-lane road, heading west, operating a long-nose conventional with a 48-foot refrigerated trailer in tow.

At this hour, the road was dead empty, and John concluded that the 35-mph speed limit was intended more for traffic conditions than for an empty road. He cautiously ran his speed up to 45 mph and held it there, splitting up half a gear to save fuel.

His challenge would be staying alert at this late hour. Unfortunately, there was no talk on the CB. Also, it was cold out, so he couldn’t open a window for fresh air and still be comfortable.

Just as Doe was starting to think about other ways to stay awake, circumstances provided a solution. As he scanned the road ahead, something suddenly swept under the front edge of the envelope of light provided by his beams, and, at this speed, it provided a powerful feeling of panic!

The object was innocuous enough – a mere 2 x 2 board, about 3-feet long. But Doe knew from his many years of driving that he should avoid it, if possible, because such road junk often flies up and inflicts costly body damage.

Having too little time to think, Doe reacted instinctively, cranking his wheel to the right in an abrupt but skillful manner. He was able to shift the rig’s path away from the board and keep the trailer upright. But, alas, just as he began to get the idea he had managed to re-align the truck safely onto the shoulder in the nick of time, he felt a sharp jolt upward and heard a loud “kablam!” He stopped the vehicle as quickly as he could, set the brakes, and got out to survey the damage.

As he looked behind the trailer, Doe could see that, as he had turned onto the shoulder, his tractor had rolled over a raised manhole cover located well off the road. As his eyes shifted back toward the tractor tandems, he could see that one set of dual wheels had been noticeably bent. Further inspection revealed a permanent deformation of the steel spring on that side of the axle as well.

John’s safety director was not at all pleased by the accident and quickly issued a letter warning him that it had been preventable. John was just as displeased, and asked the National Safety Council’s Accident Review Committee to consider his point of view – that nobody could possibly have anticipated the presence of the not-so-innocuous piece of lumber in the middle of the lane.

As the Committee reviewed the facts, it quickly read the 45-mph speed out of the truck’s on-board recorder and ascertained the speed limit posted on the country road. They judged that John had been overdriving his headlights, cutting his reaction time down to an unsafe level. They concurred with the safety director’s view that the accident had been preventable because John was speeding.