Preventable or not?

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John Doe blamed a defective power steering system for his need to back his rig suddenly. So was the damage to the expensive new Jaguar really preventable?

John Doe was making his way at a legal speed down the main street of a small town in Montana. He had a 48-foot trailer behind him, much more convenient than its longer brothers in city driving. It was his first day back at work after a delightful fishing trip, and visions of a rapidly flowing mountain stream and his cordial fishing partner in waders kept popping up in his mind. Doe managed to clear the pleasant memories from his head as he approached a crossroads where he needed to turn right.

The good mood lasted even as Doe slowed, downgeared into second, and began gradually cranking his wheel, checking his mirrors to make sure the trailer wheels wouldn’t ride up over the curb on the right side. Everything was going perfectly until Doe felt a great resistance in his steering and realized he was not going to be able to turn the wheel quickly enough to keep the tractor from intruding into the oncoming lane of the cross street. He immediately dumped the clutch and hit the brakes to bring his rig to a full stop just a foot or two before hitting a dump truck waiting for the light.

Doe’s calm mood quickly faded when the dump driver glared at him as if he were a cockroach and 4-wheeler drivers all around began honking angrily at him one by one. He was certain the steering gear would do the job for him at a lower speed as the problem seemed to be just inadequate power assistance. So, he checked his mirrors, activated his flashers, and sounded the air horn, then gently released his clutch in reverse to back up just a few feet. His plan was to reverse just far enough to get his tractor out of the far lane and set himself up for an easier turn at crawling speed.

After Doe had cautiously moved back about 5 feet, the quiet rattle of his idling engine was suddenly interrupted by a soft-sounding crunch. Doe immediately locked up his service brakes, pulled out the parking brake buttons, and leapt out of the cab, scowling. As he rounded the right/rear sight of the trailer, he caught sight of a showroom new Jaguar with its front bumper and hood dented in. As he looked to his left he confirmed that the damage lined up perfectly with his ICC bumper. Oh dear!

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Doe received a warning letter stating his accident was clearly preventable. Doe disagreed vehemently, claiming a defective power steering system was the real culprit. He believed no driver having to negotiate city streets should ever be saddled with lethargic power steering. He asked the National Safety Council Accident Review committee for its opinion.

The committee decided the accident was completely preventable. They told Doe that there’s no excuse for ever backing a tractor-trailer when you haven’t looked behind you. Even though the Jaguar had pulled up short just as Doe was shifting into reverse out of sight of his mirrors, it was Doe’s fault that it got crunched. He had allowed the angry drivers around him to intimidate him into backing prior to getting out and looking behind the trailer and, ideally, enlisting the help of someone nearby before actually moving backward.