Preventable or not?

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Doe had a green light and was traveling at or below the posted limit. He’s in the clear, right?

John Doe was headed West on a suburban, two-lane road. It was nearly high noon on a sunny day. Doe slowed his vehicle as he approached a red light, but the light went green while he was still some distance away. He later claimed his speed was still only 20 mph with a posted limit of 35 as his tractor entered the intersection.

Just prior to the moment when Doe’s front bumper crossed into the crossroads, a rapidly-moving pickup approached from the South (Doe’s left) on the cross road, and swung wildly around a car stopped at the red light. This meant it was hidden from Doe’s view until it had run the light and gotten very close to his tractor. As soon as the vehicle finally came into view, Doe locked up his brakes, leaving skid marks because his tractor and trailer were without ABS. The speeding pickup’s approach was timed perfectly for a collision with the left/front quarter panel of the cab. The pickup had never applied its brakes, and the result was a violent collision causing both drivers to be taken away in an ambulance with back injuries.

Doe’s company charged him with a preventable accident and suspended him for three days. There were two reasons for their decision:

  • Company investigators measured the skid marks Doe left, and were able to estimate his speed at 30-35 mph right before the impact.
  • Doe, in his report, “failed to indicate he’d employed the technique of ‘covering the brake'” as he approached the crossroads.

Doe was flabbergasted, and, still in pain, asked the National Safety Council’s Accident Review Committee to review the decision. He remained dumbfounded when the committee upheld the fleet’s decision, though by a slim margin. The gist of the majority’s reasoning was that Doe had failed to expect the unexpected.

A strong dissenting view from two committee members was a bit of heartening news for Doe. This took the position that it’s unreasonable, and potentially dangerous, for a truck driver to slow down enough at every intersection that such accidents could uniformly be avoided with only a split-second’s forewarning. The dissenters felt that Doe could not possibly have seen the recklessly driven pickup in time to avoid a collision. Who do you think was right?