What does the law say? And how does it work?
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has regulations in place to ensure the safety of all drivers on our highways. One set of regulations tells truckers what to do when their vehicles are stopped on a roadway. It goes into great detail and covers the common scenarios wherein an 18-wheeler or other large truck is parked in such a way that could be dangerous to other motorists.
Specifically we're referring to Federal Regulation § 392.22. Here's how it works:
- § 392.22 tells truck drivers what they should do immediately upon stopping in an unexpected place; like on the shoulder of a road.
- It goes into detail as to how and where truck drivers should place flares or reflective triangles to make them visible to passing traffic,
- And it also provides for specific scenarios like:
- stopping at night/day,
- parking in business or residential districts,
- parking on divided or one-way roads,
- proper warning when parked on a hill or curve, or would otherwise be obstructed from view
- or if the truck is leaking flammable materials
Let me give some specific examples.
§ 392.22 (a) 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 required...
Additionally, the regulation says:
§ 392.22 (b) ...whenever a commercial motor vehicle is stopped upon the traveled portion or the shoulder of a highway for any cause other than necessary traffic stops, the driver shall, as soon as possible, but in any event within 10 minutes, place the warning devices required...
The regulation goes on to give the exact intervals at which flares should be placed. i.e.
§ 392.22 (i) One on the traffic side of and 4 paces (approximately 3 meters or 10 feet) from the stopped commercial motor vehicle in the direction of approaching traffic...
In two subsequent sub-sections, the law further explains that a flare must be placed at 40 paces (approximately 100 feet) behind the 18-wheeler in the middle of the lane or shoulder that the 18-wheeler occupies, and another at the same distance in front of the parked vehicle.
The subsections of the regulation go on to give direction to the truck driver for the use of fusees, liquid-burning flares, and bidirectional reflective triangles.
How do accident victims know if an 18-wheeler was illegally parked?
In a perfect world, police reports would give us a clear picture of what happened. But this isn't what I typically see. Police are often unaware of the duties that federal parking regulations impose. My experience handling accidents involving illegally parked 18-wheelers tells me that as long a commercial truck has a flare or triangle out, that's usually good enough for authorities. This also leaves victims and their families in a difficult place. If the police who investigated the accident aren't familiar with federal trucking regulations or if they're inclined to simply take the truck driver's word that he set up his flares correctly, how can victims or their families know if the truck driver was in the wrong?
I can't speak to how others do it, but my firm routinely conducts a proper, independent investigation for victims who are injured or lose a loved one in these types of crashes. For instance, my firm once handled a case where a car was sideswiped on the freeway and was pushed into a parked 18-wheeler. This truck was parked on the shoulder of the road, what we also refer to as the emergency lane. In this case, not only was the car driver killed and several others injured, but the police report was quite favorable to the truck driver.
Through the course of our investigation we learned that the driver pulled onto the shoulder not because there was an emergency or a problem with his truck, but because he felt it was an convenient place for a quick pit stop and snack. Instead of pulling off at one of the available exits, he pulled onto the shoulder of the road blocking this entire area from use. Simply put, the truck should never have been there. As a result, the emergency lane was unavailable to the sideswiped driver who had no other choice but to crash into the truck killing himself and hurting several others.
Unfortunately, we see scenarios like that all the time, and we can't help but wonder how many families just assume that the 18-wheeler did nothing wrong when in fact they either caused or played a significant role in a major accident. Victims of accidents with an unlawfully parked 18-wheeler deserve to know what happened and if the accident could've been avoided.
Truck drivers should be held accountable for their actions and families of victims deserve to know their loved ones were not to blame.