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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 the dinged/cracked windshields resulting from carelessly loaded trucks? And if they are liable, how do I make a claim?

-- Pitted, dinged, & 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 sets 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 from one place to another have had to meet certain specifications: No holes in the container; enclose the 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; hang mud flaps behind each set of tires (dump trucks need center flaps too); 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. Who's going to haul dirt in a truck with big holes in the sides.

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 with a tarp. Great! Well...not so great when you get to the exceptions. EXCEPTIONS: You don't need a tarp if the sand or gravel remains six inches below the upper edge of the filled 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 edges of the container. Huh? Clearly not a law written by the tarp manufacturers.

Violation of 23114 rates a misdemeanor ticket. If you could prove that the truck in front of you was in violation and as a result broke your windshield, you might make a case in small claims court. Your first problem, of course, is proving that the offending rock came from the truck body. And you would need to prove that because of the final ugly exception to the Stop the Rocks law. The big old loophole you could drive a truck through. Rocks thrown back by vehicle tires (either out of the tire tread 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. I guess if I can't have that, I'll choose to be an auto glass replacer.

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