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Heymatt:

Traveling down the freeway of life, the latest wrinkle on the road are sand and gravel trucks with a sign claiming, “Not responsible for damage to windshields.” Huh? Did the truckers’ lobby manage to convince the legislature and governor that they shouldn’t have to pay for dinged/cracked windshields resulting from carelessly loaded trucks? And if they are liable, how do I make a claim?

— Pitted, Dinged, and Cracked in Pine Valley

All the bad news is contained in Section 23114 of the state vehicle code. You’d expect 23114 to be good news since it set rules for trucks that haul dirt and aggregate. But when you’re looking at it from the road in back of the truck, you see that the law’s not a lot of help.

Since 1990, California companies that own trucks that move loads of dirt have had to meet certain specifications: no holes in the container; enclose cargo with four walls; seal the points where tailgates or bottom-release gates meet the container body; cover the tops of your tires with fenders and hang mud flaps behind each set of tires; and use shed boards when you load your truck so stones don’t bounce out and build up on the truck body. So far, complete no-brainers.

When the legislation was written, it was dubbed “Stop the Rocks!” So is there anything in the law that might actually stop rocks? Well, it does say that the load must be covered by a tarp. Great! Well…not so great when you get to the exceptions: you don’t need a tarp if the sand or gravel remains six inches below the upper edge of the container. And if your truck is filled (from a chute or conveyor) so the load mounds up in the middle, you don’t need a tarp as long as the peak of the load is level with the upper edge of the container. Violation of 23114 rates a misdemeanor ticket.

But what about your claim for a cracked windshield? If you can prove that the truck is in violation and as a result broke your windshield, you might have a case in small-claims court. Your first and biggest problem is identifying the specific offending rock, then proving it came from the truck. You would have to prove that because of the final ugly exception to the “Stop the Rocks!” law. Rocks thrown back by vehicle tires (either out of the treads or from the road surface) are considered road hazards, and 23114 doesn’t apply to road hazards. Case closed.

I’ve always dreamed of coming back to life as a tow-truck driver with a perpetual contract with the police department. If I can’t have that, I guess I’ll be an auto-glass replacer.

Heymatt:

My friend’s dog just died of cancer, and it got me to wondering what other animals (other than people) get cancer. I know cats do. But has anybody ever found a skunk that’s died of cancer, or a squirrel or something like that?

— Linda, San Diego

Sorry about your friend’s dog. According to the American Veterinary Medicine Association, at least 50 percent of all house pets over age ten (principally cats and dogs) will suffer from cancer. It’s commonly a disease of older animals, including us, so your squirrel might be spared. Odds are, small tasty animals like that will be eaten by big hungry things like coyotes and hawks long before the small tasty animals can get old enough to worry about cancer.

Aside from cats, dogs, hamsters, rats, our furry house friends, the other category of animals that are protected from death by Buick or predator are zoo animals. They live longer than their counterparts in the wild, and an amazing herd of animal species has been necropsied at zoos and the medical results published in journals. Cancer has killed a list of species that reads like the manifest for Noah’s Ark: snakes, pandas, giraffes, parakeets, tigers, fruit bats, kangaroos, ferrets, tapirs, frogs, lemurs, chickens, hedgehogs, geckos, zebras, whales, camels, rhinos, alpacas, elephants, and meerkats (awwwwww!).

The list is longer. In fact, based on veterinary medical research, virtually all vertebrates are susceptible to cancer. Life span and exposure to common carcinogens seem to be the key factors. But apparently nobody’s looked for cancer in squishy things such as snails and clams. They happen to make up most of the world’s animals, and maybe one day we’ll find out that they get cancer too.

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