Risk, Externalized

On the trans Canada, just cross out of Ontario into Manitoba, we came across the scene of an accident. At first we couldn’t tell what had happened – a truck was in the ditch with its windshield caved in, and debris was strewn over the road. It looked a bit like he’d hit a deer or a moose, but there was no evidence of an animal anyway. A bit further up the road, however, we saw an 18 wheeler with one bare rim, and a tire lying on the side of the road. It’s pretty obvious what happened – the semi truck going Westbound had a tire come off its trailer, the tire bounced and careened into the pickup going Eastbound. The closing speed of the pickup and the tire must have been between 150 and 200km/h, as the road speed limit is 100km/h.

The tire must have hit the pickup with a lot of force, because not only did it cause the truck to skid across the road into the ditch, it managed to collapse the front suspension such that debris from the lower front of the truck broke off and was strewn all over the road.

Now, it’s pretty clear what should happen. It’s someone’s responsibility to inspect the condition of tires on 18 wheeler trailers, or rather, its to some extent both the responsibility of the driver and the firm that provides the trailer. In a just world, if this trailer does belong to some major company, that firm should lose the right to rent trailers. Of course, if the trailer belongs to the driver, all the responsibility simply falls there.

Of course, there is also the possibility that all the safety precautions were followed and this happened anyway. If that’s true, then this is just a structural risk built into the system of trucking things everywhere – an innocent driver could be killed by a flying tire.


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