Preventable or not?


John Doe fought mightily to avoid any damage, but to no avail. But could he have really prevented the debris hitting his truck?

It was nearly noon, but a slight fog still hung over the road. John Doe rolled his long-nose tractor and trailer eastbound in the right lane of an Interstate, headed toward a major city. Because road conditions were not quite ideal, Doe kept his speed in check and his following distance generous for the speed.

Suddenly, the CB Doe had installed in the company tractor crackled with the voice of a fellow driver who also traveled this road frequently. Turned out, the driver was right in front of Doe on the highway. They cruised along, discussing the perennial issue of driver pay.

Then, the CB suddenly barked a four-letter word, and Doe saw his fellow traveler brake hard and head toward the shoulder. Doe could see the rig was trailing metal fragments as it left the road. Something on the other truck had suddenly come apart!

Doe immediately applied the brakes in a controlled manner, allowing continued maneuvering. It quickly became apparent that the fragments could not be avoided without shifting into the left lane. Seeing no traffic there, Doe made a sudden but controlled move into what he hoped would be a safe haven.

He negotiated the move without losing control but, sadly, one tire just happened to roll across a single fragment during his lane shift. The force threw the fragment up into the area of one of his saddle tanks. The good news was there was no diesel leak to clean up. The bad news was some damage to a fold-down step attached to the tank.

Doe shook his head at the predictability of the warning letter he received from his safety director. The charge was not having his vehicle under sufficient control to deal with multiple road hazards. The National Safety Council’s Accident Review Committee became the final arbiter.

NSC carefully checked Doe’s following distance and speed, and noted his successful maneuver away from the debris without loss of control. Turns out, his speed was judged reasonable and his following distance quite adequate for the driving conditions. The accident was declared non-preventable based on the fact that there was not more Doe could have reasonably been expected to do to avoid a road hazard he had no way to anticipate.