Bad Things Can Happen When Tractor Trailers Park on the Side of Road
Bad things can and typically do happen when a tractor trailer is parked on the side of a busy roadway. The most catastrophic is when a smaller passenger vehicle is caused to leave the roadway and underrides the back end of the trailer. When an innocent passenger is killed or maimed, a portion of fault is normally apportioned to the driver of the vehicle who departed from the traffic lane. It is necessary, however, to examine the decision to violate safety standards by parking a big rig on the side of the road. The common reaction of people who are uninformed as to the safety standards governing commercial motor vehicles is to immediately conclude the driver of the car striking the parked tractor trailer is responsible. Thus, it is necessary to thoroughly investigate and, if possible, refute potential defenses. If the driver of the car had a cell phone, it is worth the cost to do a forensic download and rule out driver distraction from a cell phone at the time of the crash. A reliably conducted medical examination or autopsy is needed to rule out alcohol or drug use that may have contributed to cause of the crash. Why? One of the least understood hazards on our roadways is a tractor trailer parked on the side of the road. I am sure just about everyone has witnessed it, whether during the day, or late at night, a tractor trailer parked inches from the right travel lane. It goes without saying how dangerous this conduct is to vehicles traveling on the roadway. Why? Vehicles can and will occasionally leave the travel portion of the roadway. Everyone expects such a deviation. How many people have ever run over rumble strips positioned just off the roadway? This can happen for any several innocuous reasons. A driver may be forced to swerve to avoid another vehicle or an animal running onto the roadway. A vehicle can hydroplane and spin off the road when water pools during heavy rain. The foreseeability of vehicles departing from the traffic lane is why highways built in the United States in recent decades have incorporated road design features to make roadsides forgiving for drivers who makes such mistakes. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO
) recommends construction standards for shoulder
and right of way design. This includes clearance of obstructions such as, trees, steep slopes, or abutments which may hinder a motorist from being able to recover from an unintended departure from the roadway. They also recommend guardrails whenever feasible to redirect drifting vehicles back onto the paved portion of the roadway. The Roadside Design Guide defines a clear zone as the total roadside border area, starting at the edge of the traveled way, available for safe use by errant vehicles. This area may consist of a shoulder, a recoverable slope, a non-recoverable slope, and/or a clear run-out area. Simply stated, it is an unobstructed, relatively flat area beyond the edge of the traveled way that allows a driver to stop safely or regain control of a vehicle that leaves the traveled way. The highway shoulder is not designed for parking. It is a “clear zone” or “recovery zone,” not a parking area. Yet every day we see 18-wheelers parked in that “recovery zone” or shoulder, parked overnight and not illuminated. A large Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) parked on the shoulder of a highway becomes a large, immovable, rigid barrier blocking the “clear zone.” It creates an eminent hazard to occupants of any vehicle which may depart, for whatever reason, from the travel portion of the roadway. Tractor trailers parked in the “clear zone” or “recovery zone” create the equivalent of an unforgiving solid wall. This presents a vastly greater danger to people in approaching cars. When a car veers out of its lane and collides with an 80,000-pound tractor trailer, the physics is devastating. Semi-trucks are not only larger and heavier than regular vehicles, but their trailers also stand high off the ground. If a car traveling at highway speeds meets the trailer of an 18-wheeler, the big rig is the perfect height to sheer off the top of the car and kill or perhaps decapitate anyone inside. Conspicuity of big rigs parked on the roadside, especially in darkness and/or poor weather conditions affecting visibility is a hazard. That is why the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations have strict rules on this. At § 392.22 on Emergency Stops
, the regulations require, “whenever a commercial motor vehicle is stopped upon the traveled portion of a highway or the shoulder of a highway for any cause other than necessary traffic stops, the driver of the stopped commercial motor vehicle shall immediately activate the vehicular hazard warning signal flashers and continue the flashing until the driver places the warning devices”. As soon as possible, and in all cases within 10 minutes, the driver must places three reflective triangles or flares. Trucking company corporate management can reduce this risk of a deadly crash through management practices that include good trip planning so that drivers can reach safe places for planned stops before they run out of safe driving hours. Companies should manage their fleets to make frequent vehicle inspections and perform appropriate equipment maintenance. Trucking company management should require drivers not to stop along the roadside in non-emergency situations and instruct drivers to exit the highway and find a safe place to park when necessary. If due to mechanical breakdown a truck driver has no choice but to stop on the side of the road, trucking companies should train drivers and dispatchers on things they can do to reduce the risk of a loss in the event of a breakdown or other roadside emergency. Such actions include:
- Immediately turn on hazard flashers when slowing and leave them on while stopped.
- Immediately set out warning devices (reflective triangles or flares) in accordance with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations at 49 CFR § 392.22.
- Keep marker lights on after dark.
- Avoid parking on curves or on the downside of undulated roads that obscure the approach of oncoming traffic.
- Park as far off the traveled roadway as safely possible. Remember shoulders can be soft and have a steep drop-off or ditch.
- When stopped, set parking brakes.
- Notify employer as soon as possible to arrange roadside assistance.
- Avoid falling into traffic by using three points of contact exiting /entering the cab or climbing onto the catwalk or trailer.
- Walk along the side of the vehicle opposite traffic.
- Watch out for debris or uneven surfaces when outside the vehicle.
- Use a visible flashlight after dark.
- Wear reflective clothing (such as a high visibility safety vest) when exiting the vehicle.
When presented with catastrophic crashes that involve a commercial motor vehicle parked by the side of the road, Bordas & Bordas investigates the crash and retain the appropriate experts. We determine why the driver chose that spot to pull off and stop. We download electronic control module data and other electronic records from both vehicles. How long had the truck been parked? Was there a dash cam video on either vehicle that could be evidence? Was it an actual emergency or mechanical failure? Was the driver failing to follow safety rules and simply stopped for a “break” on the roadside rather than in a safe place off the road? Did the truck driver can stop in a safer location? If a family member is badly injured or killed in a collision with a tractor trailer parked on the roadside, please call us at Bordas & Bordas.