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Preventable or not? Driver tops icy hill, slams jackknifed flatbed

Illustration of an accident involving a semi truck

John Doe, who’d blindly crested a hill preceding an icy downgrade, couldn’t avoid a flatbed that had jacked completely across both lanes. Was this a preventable accident?

At 11 p.m., peering through a spring snow squall on a dark and lonely interstate highway with two lanes in each direction, tractor-trailer driver John Doe headed toward Fairbanks with a trailer load of Chinese parkas and a giant bag of grapes riding shotgun. At the moment, Doe was sipping heavy-duty coffee while softly humming “North To Alaska” and watching the rapid approach of headlights in his West Coast mirror.

While the posted speed limit was 65, lousy conditions had motivated Doe to back down to 35, but the nut behind him – Freddy “Flatbed” Fryhopper – still was rolling along at warp speed. Before long, Flatbed’s rig flashed past and disappeared like a ghost into the white haze ahead. Minutes later, the snow squall abated, visibility slightly improved, and Doe crept up to 55 mph.

It still was snowing lightly, however, as Doe blindly crested a hill preceding a long and moderately-steep downgrade curving toward the right … Oh no! Halfway down the grade, Flatbed’s flatbed was jacked completely across both lanes! And the roadway was glazed with ice! While Doe couldn’t slow down much, his tractor’s anti-lock brakes enabled him to steer toward the rear of Flatbed’s trailer, which he struck and shoved aside like a barn door, thereafter sliding to a stop.

Since Doe contested the preventable-accident warning letter he received from his safety director, the National Safety Council’s Accident Review Committee was asked to pass judgment. NSC ruled against Doe, noting that he’d blindly hit the downgrade at 55 mph and was going too fast for conditions.

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