Recently I spoke with a truck owner (who was taking out some tree limbs at my house).  He’s apparently had some experience with putting the sign on the back of his dump truck, which we’ve all seen, saying “Not Responsible for Broken Windshields….Stay Back 200 Feet!” among other versions.  However, police later told him this sign did not absolve him one bit from having to keep stuff on his truck and taking responsibility for damage if things fall off. Before that, he figured that since other people had such as sign, he should use one also, and that it might work to help immunize him somehow in the event of an accident.

The bottom line is that such statements do not hold water.  As one example, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer had a Q&A a couple of years ago, stating:

Washington State Patrol trooper and spokesman Jeff Merrill said posting a sign on the rear of a vehicle or towed trailer “does not absolve the driver of any responsibility if debris falls from the vehicle. If debris drops or falls off and damages another vehicle or breaks a windshield, it is still the driver’s responsibility.”

I’m sure it’s the same in the other states.

Still, it appears to be legal for people to put forward bogus messages such as this one, which really do not apply, and they don’t have to be certain about their applicability, either.  Such messages might be rendered illegal through legislation, or possibly through a decision interpreting certain highway rules, for example, as not allowing such obvious chicanery.  But so far, these signs are out there, all over the place.

Now, the teaching moment is this:  what else are we being presented with that might also not be the real story? One point to keep in mind here is that in various endeavors with environmental implications, such as the Marcellus shale hydrofracking efforts going on in NY and other states, it is important to take nothing for granted.  Just because someone says something is so (be it in a scientific/technical context, or a legal/regulatory one), does necessarily not make it true or applicable, if one looks a little deeper.

I say this, in part, in continuing to recommend (as done here and here) that everything in the files that is available on the NY State Marcellus shale impact assessment  (including draft documents, letters, emails, proposals for work, billing statements, raw data, and everything else) be acquired and widely disseminated for review.  That’s the only way to see if there are things being put forward that don’t hold water (regardless of the intent of those involved).