Preventable or not?


John Doe assumed this bridge was as wide as the one he just crossed and maintained speed and lane position. Would the resulting collision fairly be ruled preventable?

Early one morning, John Doe was making his way northward on a two-lane federal highway. He cruised his tractor-trailer at 55, the legal limit and a generally reasonable speed for the wide lanes of this highway. He comfortably crossed a bridge in a lane that was 19 feet, 10 inches wide without incident or panic. With the sun coming up, the ease of rolling down this highway put Doe in a relaxed mood.

Now, as Doe scanned the road ahead, he saw another bridge in the distance. Soon, a similar commercial vehicle running along in the oncoming lane appeared out of the morning mist. Doe noticed that there were no warning signs saying “Narrow Bridge” or anything similar. He assumed that crossing this bridge, too, would be a piece of cake and kept his speed at the limit.

The driver coming in the other direction was thinking the same things Doe had on his mind, so he, too, maintained full highway speed. As the two vehicles simultaneously reached the center of the span, Doe suddenly realized this bridge wasn’t as friendly as the other. The oncoming rig’s left side was far closer to his than any of the traffic had been on the last bridge. Doe held his line, staying properly in lane and hoped for the best. Alas, that hope proved to be a pipe dream!

Bam! The good news was that the cab structures and bumpers were more than a foot apart. The bad news was that the West Coast mirrors had met in the middle. The result was broken mirrors and mounts, sprung doors, and shrapnel damage to an expensively finished street rod trailing Doe, albeit at a respectable distance.

Fleet officials investigated the incident, finding the bridge almost a foot narrower than the previous one that had lulled Doe into an unwarranted state of complacency. And, there was no signage relating to the relative narrowness of the span.

Nevertheless, Doe received a letter warning him the event had been declared “preventable.” He immediately contested the ruling, claiming that since there was no sign to give him advance warning, his assumption that the bridge would be plenty wide for a safe crossing at speed was reasonable.

Both parties agreed to let the National Safety Council’s Accident Review Committee review the reports and take sides. Investigators noted that Doe had not adequately sized up the situation, and therefore made no attempt to slow or steer right. They therefore upheld the fleet’s decision that the accident had been preventable. Their reasoning was that it should have been obvious to John Doe that he was confronted with the double threat of a narrow bridge and an oncoming commercial vehicle. He should have slowed, thus giving himself time to safely steer closer to the right side of the lane and avoid the other truck.

FMCSA proposes fuel spitback rule
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration proposed to harmonize the fuel tank fill requirements of the motor carrier safety regulations with those of the Environmental Protection Agency for gasoline and methanol-fueled vehicles up to 14,000 pounds in gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). Fuel spitback, considered an environmental and safety hazard, is fuel spillage that occurs when the design of the piping leading to a fuel tank is inadequate. For gasoline- and methanol-fueled vehicles with a GVWR of 14,000 pounds or less, the FMCSA proposes to require that the vehicle comply with applicable fuel-spitback prevention regulations and onboard regulations of the EPA.

FMCSA’s proposal also would make permanent some exemptions previously granted to motor carriers operating certain gasoline-fueled commercial motor vehicles manufactured by the Ford Motor Company and by General Motors.

Comments are due Jan. 12, 2004. For a copy of the notice of proposed rulemaking, visit and search Docket. No. 13589.