Driver tops icy hill, slams jackknifed flatbed. Was this accident preventable?

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Updated Nov 29, 2022

At 11 p.m., peering through a snow squall on a dark and lonely interstate highway with two lanes in each direction, tractor-trailer driver John Doe headed toward North Pole, New York, with a trailer load of letters to Santa. 

Doe was sipping some high-octane coffee while softly humming "Christmas Conga" by Cyndi Lauper, 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 by and disappeared like the Ghost of Christmas Past 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 downgrade curving toward the right. "Oh no," Doe exclaimed, seeing that 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, he was able steer toward the rear of Flatbed’s trailer, which he struck and shoved aside like the sash from Twas the Night Before Christmas, thereafter sliding to a stop.

Was this accident preventable?

Doe's fleet manager promptly issued a preventable-accident warning letter, citing that Doe wasn't exercising appropriate caution given the weather conditions. "Just because you were more safe than that Flatbed idiot doesn't mean that you were safe enough," Doe's boss wrote in the memo line. 

Doe appealed to the National Safety Council’s Accident Review Committee. The agency ruled against Doe, noting that he’d blindly hit the downgrade at 55 mph and agreed that he was going too fast for conditions.