Preventable or Not?

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Doe flip-flops on windy road

Thanks to intrastate driver Chucky Plimpton and long-hauler Slim Darmstadter, lunch at the truckstop had been mighty entertaining. Quoting from a tattered copy of regulatory interpretations, Darmstadter said Plimpton was Preventable Untitled 1subject to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations whenever “the intent of the transportation being performed is interstate in nature, even when the route is within the boundaries of a single state.” Huh?

Gleefully aware of Plimpton’s confusion, Darmstadter then quoted Uncle Sam’s clarification that “interstate commerce is determined by the essential character of the movement, manifested by the shipper’s fixed and persistent intent at the time of shipment, and is ascertained from all the facts and circumstances surrounding the transportation.” Huh? Poor Plimpton.

Despite taking several precautions, John Doe couldn’t dodge the gusty crosswinds that flipped his empty intermodal container. Was this a preventable accident?

Now, several hours later, tractor-trailer driver Doe was northbound on California’s four-lane limited-access Coastview Highway with an empty intermodal container in tow. Noting that the gusty crosswinds – common to that stretch of road – suddenly had increased dramatically, Doe pulled into the right lane and decelerated to 30 mph from the posted speed limit of 55 mph. There was no opportunity to seek shelter. Whoosh! A 70-mph gust broadsided Doe’s container and … WHUMP! … flipped it violently on its side. Oh no!

Doe received a preventable-accident warning letter from his safety director, which he contested. Asked to resolve the dispute, the National Safety Council’s Accident Review Committee ruled in Doe’s favor, declaring that he’d taken every reasonable precaution. Even a dead stop probably wouldn’t have helped, NSC said.