If you think about the dangers posed by commercial trucks, you probably think about a large truck, speeding, weaving in and out of travel lanes with perhaps a drowsy or fatigued driver behind the wheel. What you probably don’t think about are the dangers of a commercial truck parked in the wrong place at the wrong time. Just because a truck isn’t moving doesn’t mean it’s not a hazard.
- Joseph Pierson died at the age of 40 after his car was wedged under the trailer of an illegally parked semi-truck in Fairfield, Connecticut, in 2012. The accident occurred at night and the truck was parked in a no-parking area of a rest stop, reports the Connecticut Post.
- Chad Wayne Houchin, 40, of Idabel, Oklahoma, was killed in 2005 at the scene of an accident that occurred when his pickup truck struck an illegally parked and unoccupied log truck on a county road in McCurtain County, according to News 12 KXII. Houchin was driving in the early morning when the passenger side of the truck hit the logs on the trailer.
- Two parents and their young son burned to death after their vehicle struck the rear of a semi-trailer illegally parked on a highway in Southern California in 2009, reports the Contra Costa Times. The truck was parked on the side of the highway in the early morning dark, but the driver didn’t turn on emergency flashers or use any kind of emergency reflector. Two other children survived the accident. One child and the estate of the other were awarded $150 million in a negligence lawsuit filed against the driver and his employer. One of the surviving children committed suicide on his mother’s birthday before the trial took place.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is an agency within the federal Department of Transportation that regulates commercial trucking. It has regulations concerning how commercial motor vehicles are supposed to warn drivers that a commercial truck is parked on the side of the road. The following safety measures are required:
- The use of hazard warning signal flashers at least until warning devices are placed behind the truck and while the devices are removed.
- If the truck is stopped for more than ten minutes, warning devices or flares must be placed about ten feet behind the truck toward oncoming traffic and about a hundred feet behind the truck in the center of the shoulder or lane where the truck is located. Warning devices need to be placed towards and away from oncoming traffic.
- Devices need not be used in business or residential districts unless it’s dark enough that lighting is needed.
Without these warnings, depending on the conditions, drivers may not be aware of the truck or be able to take actions to avoid it.
There can be many reasons why a truck is pulled over on the highway, including a mechanical breakdown; or the driver may not feel well, be fatigued or be required by federal regulations to stop driving due to the number of hours on the road. Commercial truck drivers are required to pull over and stop driving at certain intervals in the hopes they won’t be too fatigued to drive safely. Federal regulations include these provisions:
- They prohibit a commercial truck driver from operating a vehicle if he or she is too ill or fatigued to safely do so.
- Require that drivers must take at least a thirty-minute break for every eight consecutive hours on duty.
- Set the maximum average work week at 70 hours. Once that limit is reached, the next work week can start again with 34 consecutive hours off duty.
- Limit daily driving to eleven consecutive hours, with the total work day 14 consecutive hours.
Federal rules and common sense mandate that commercial drivers must get off the road to rest to safely operate their vehicles, but, depending on the location, there may be too few spaces for semi-trucks to legally park for an extended time in order for drivers to get needed rest. The magazine Overdrive covers the trucking industry, and a poll of its readers last year reported that finding safe, legal parking was a common problem of varying frequency:
- Nearly every day (46%)
- More than once a day (14%)
- A couple or a few times a week (25%).
The problem is especially bad on both coasts, according to Overdrive readers. They found that of the ten states where the problem of available parking is the worst, seven are on the East Coast (Rhode Island, Connecticut, Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Florida and Maryland) and two are on the West Coast (California and Washington). The other state in the top ten is Illinois.
There has been an effort to meet the demand for safe parking:
- The rate of creating new parking spaces is accelerating, with more spaces being created at private truck stops instead of public rest areas.
- More programs delivering information in real-time on parking space availability are being implemented.
- Truckers can reserve parking spaces at some major truck stop chains.
But these improvements aren’t meeting the demand in much of the country. There are large differences among the states for legal truck parking spaces, from a high of 171 spaces per 100,000 miles of annual truck vehicle miles traveled in Montana to just 31 in Rhode Island.
The Connecticut Post article referred to previously stated that twelve hours after Joseph Pierson was killed when his vehicle collided with a commercial truck, another semi-truck parked illegally in the same spot. The driver of the second truck said he didn’t like parking overnight on the shoulder of a rest stop but that sometimes he had no better option.
A spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Transportation Kevin Nursick was asked about the problem of truck parking. “It’s always been an issue. There’s more demand than supply,” Nursick said. “The only way to solve that is to build more service plazas, and that just isn’t going to happen.”
As long as truck drivers continue to fail to properly warn other drivers that their trucks are parked on the side of the road, and as long as the demand for safe, legal parking spots outstrips supply, commercial trucks will continue to pose a threat to others — whether they’re moving or parked.