Preventable or not?


Did John Doe use all reasonable caution in making his left turn?

John Doe cranked up his rig, having hitched up to a 48-foot flatbed loaded with steel coils the night before. After a thorough walkaround while the oil circulated through the engine, he gently let up on the clutch and pulled onto the four-lane divided road leading out of his terminal. Doe was heading eastward to a second road leading quickly to an entrance ramp for the Interstate highway nearby.

The sunrise revealed a cloudless sky. Doe took a bite of his donut and a sip of hot coffee. He stayed in the right lane, knowing he’d want to be there to position himself for the entrance ramp. A bus was traveling in the left lane, keeping pace with John. Although he knew he’d be making a left-hand turn, both lanes were left-hand turn lanes, so he had no worries.
The light at the end of the four-lane leading to and from the terminal was red. As he approached the light, John kept tabs on the bus to his left, but felt confident, since the driver seemed to be holding his vehicle perfectly in lane.

He shifted down two gears, engaged the Jake to minimize his use of the service brakes, and came smoothly to a stop. After about 45 seconds and another sip of coffee, the light turned green. Before letting up on the clutch, Doe checked for red light runners. Seeing that the way was clear, he moved out into the intersection, grabbing the next gear up just before beginning to really crank his wheel into the turn.

Doe kept eyeing both mirrors every few seconds as he made his arc to the left. On his third glance, he was startled to see that the bus driver was turning left too gradually, apparently fearing the curb on the access road’s divider and ignoring lines in the road for turning vehicles. The bus’s front end was rapidly encroaching on his lane!

Doe reacted immediately, loudly blowing his air horn and applying full air brake pressure almost simultaneously. The bus driver apparently had no idea it was Doe trying to warn him, and just kept on coming. Doe cringed as first the bus’s mirror and then its right front corner sideswiped his tractor’s left side.

He was even more chagrined the next morning to find a letter from the fleet safety director in his mailbox at the terminal. It charged him with a preventable accident because he “…should have hung back, anticipating that the long bus would encroach on his lane.”

Doe was livid and asked the National Safety Council’s Accident Review Committee to review. They ruled in Doe’s favor, pointing out that he had proceeded cautiously and reacted properly as soon as he saw the two vehicles on a collision course. They decided he had fallen prey to a bus driver who had had plenty of room to maneuver and did not initially appear to pose a threat.