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Staying off the shoulder prevents truck accidents

September 14, 2016 by Steven M. Gursten

Here is a top safety tip that truckers and company safety managers need to know about when it comes to parking semi tractor-trailers on the shoulder of the highway


As one company safety manager told me once, the #1 rule of thumb for truck drivers who are considering parking a truck on a highway shoulder: Don’t do it!!

Parking a tractor-trailer on the side of the road poses a substantial safety risk to the trucker. But trucks parked on shoulders, even with warning lights, also threatens the safety of innocent motorists driving in in the oncoming traffic lanes. There is quite a bit of human factors science to explain why this happens, some of which I’ll touch on below, but the take-away for truckers is clear: the shoulder of highways should be considered a “no parking zone.”

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) needs to update its safety regulations on this to match the dangers this poses to the public. Currently, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) requires truck drivers who stop on “the shoulder of a highway for any cause other than necessary traffic stops” to take specific, proactive steps to protect the public and prevent truck accidents. (See FMCSR 392.22)

As a truck accident attorney, I know that most truckers are professionals who take their job and the safety of the public seriously. The message that company safety managers need to be putting out is that truckers need to plan and time stops better. A trucker who is growing fatigued should stop at a truck stop or rest area. Driver fatigue and mechanical issues are not unusual, and the onset of either is rarely so sudden that a trucker should not instead stop and park a semi at a rest area or truck stop or other designated parking area instead.

What ‘shoulder’ safety measures must truckers undertake?

Under FMCSR 392.22, which addresses the use of “emergency signals” by “stopped commercial motor vehicles,” a truck driver who stops on “the shoulder of a highway for any cause other than necessary traffic stops” “shall”:

  • “[I]mmediately activate the vehicular hazard warning signal flashers and continue the flashing until the [trucker] places the [federally-required] warning devices … The flashing lights may be used at other times while a commercial motor vehicle is stopped in addition to, but not in lieu of, the warning devices …”
  • “[W]ithin 10 minutes [of stopping], place the warning devices … on the traffic side” of the truck and both in front of and behind the truck.

What ‘warning devices’ are required by the FMCSR?

The “warning devices for stopped vehicles” that are required by FMCSR 393.95(f) and (k) include:

  • “Three bidirectional emergency reflective triangles that conform to the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 125, § 571.125 …”;
  • “At least 6 fusees or 3 liquid-burning flares. The vehicle must have as many additional fusees or liquid-burning flares as are necessary to satisfy the requirements of § 392.22.”

The FMCSR also appears to permit “red flags” as acceptable warning devices that can be used in addition to – but not in place of – the above.

Parking a truck on the shoulder leads to very serious and preventable truck accidents

As an attorney, I’ve now had several of these cases involving trucks that either were parked on the side of the freeway, or truck drivers who drive into other trucks stopped on the highway. There is a moth to flame analogy that I often hear safety experts use to describe why this happens, and the evidence is clear that it poses an increased and unjustifiable safety risk to the trucker and the public.

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