Preventable or not?


Doe drove cautiously, but still experienced an accident. His safety director blamed him for driving at all.

John Doe, a veteran mountain driver, was carefully keeping his tractor-trailer rig under control as he descended a two-lane road in the mountains. There was a snow squall at the time, but Does’ rig was equipped with chains, and the road was passable with acceptable visibility.

Doe was watching well ahead and noticed some tricky-looking sharp curves. So he slowed from 25 mph to 15 well in advance of reaching them. As he rounded the first of the blind curves, a car blocking the oncoming lane suddenly became visible at a distance of about 100 yards. Doe anticipated well and began to brake. Then, just as Doe got his rig down well below 10 mph and under complete control and began to relax, an oncoming pickup attempted to pass the stalled car, ran into a drifted area of the roadway and got stuck!

Doe had prepared for this kind of eventuality and now continued to slow until he was doing only 3 mph. Seeing there wasn’t enough room to get the trailer through between the stalled pickup and guardrail, Doe was able to stop his rig in the drifted area to one side of the truck.

Doe did manage to remove all forward momentum with the brakes. However, he was not able to prevent the pitch engineered into the roadway for the curve from then causing his trailer to slide toward the pickup’s front fender on the icy lane. This caused the side of the trailer and the corner of the truck’s fender to collide.

As a result of the accident, Doe’s safety director issued a warning letter stating that the accident was preventable because road conditions were so bad Doe should not have been driving at all. Doe was furious, and argued that: snow is commonplace in the area of the crash throughout the winter, yet the roads remain open. Fleets making just-in-time deliveries can’t expect their customers to allow them to wait for ideal driving conditions, he said. And most of the traffic on the road was moving without much difficulty when the accident occurred. It was only the brash move of the pickup driver that resulted in a vehicle stuck in Doe’s lane. He asked the National Safety Council’s Accident Review Committee to review.

The committee agreed with Doe that the accident was completely non-preventable. Bad luck, as opposed to poor judgment on Does’ part, was the real cause of the mishap.