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How NOT to kill someone: The right way to merge into traffic from the emergency lane

Written by Joe Fried Posted October 17th, 2013

Truck lawyer provides overview of the proper procedure for merging a truck into the ordinary flow of traffic

truck merging

One common cause of preventable truck accidents is the merging of a truck into traffic from the shoulder of a road.

It’s common because on virtually every highway in the country there’s an emergency lane (commonly referred to as the “shoulder lane”), which provides a  place for motorists to pull off  in case of an emergency. People frequently pull off into the shoulder lane when their cars  get flat tires or malfunction.

But what about trucks who use the shoulder?

Truck drivers also use  the shoulder lane. Sometimes truckers need to pull off because of problems with the truck, driver fatigue, or for other reasons. But unlike with motorists, there’s a specific procedure that is required of a trucker when he or she pulls into the shoulder emergency lane.

Truck drivers who pull off to the shoulder must activate their hazard lights, and they must place hazard devices behind the truck. And those hazard devices must be positioned in a certain way. We’ve previously discussed this procedure on our blog regarding stopped trucks.

But it’s more than that. All traffic — semi-trucks included  — must eventually merge back onto the highway after exiting the shoulder emergency lane.  For trucks, because of their great size and weight, this is very dangerous maneuver.  It is why truck drivers are trained NOT to use the shoulder emergency lane of a road unless they absolutely must.

Trucks are much larger than ordinary cars and require a great deal more  space to safely merge. Because of their great weight, large trucks also take much longer to accelerate and safely match the speed of traffic so they can merge.

No reason to merge

In fact, merging a semi-truck back onto the highway is so dangerous that experts in the field maintain there’s no practical reason to ever park a truck in the emergency lane outside of an emergency situation.

Unfortunately, this last rule – the most important of all – is often ignored.

Guidelines for merging a semi truck into traffic from the shoulder

When there is a genuine emergency situation, truck safety experts have created a series of safety guidelines for merging into traffic.  Experts say that once a truck is ready to depart the shoulder and reenter the flow of traffic, the truck driver should first deactivate his or her emergency flashers. The trucker should turn on the left turning signal, and then start to accelerate the truck in the shoulder lane.

Turning the left turn signal on notifies other motorists that the semi-truck is going from a stopped condition to a mobile condition. The left turn signal should not be activated until the truck is ready to move — while the truck is immobile the emergency lights should be on at all times.

Remember, the hazard lights are required to be activated when pulled onto the shoulder per the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR).

From this point, experts in the trucking industry suggest that the truck driver treat the emergency lane as an acceleration lane when blending back into traffic, and reach the speed of traffic before even attempting to merge. The truck driver should accelerate until he or she reaches a speed close to that of traffic, typically 50 to 55 MPH. The trucker should then watch for an obvious space to merge into.

As the truck driver is accelerating, if he or she sees that another motorist traveling in the right lane has turned on their left turn signal indicating that they intend to move over into the left traffic lane in reaction to the truck, this may give the truck driver the necessary space to safely merge into traffic.

However, the trucker must still diligently ensure that other vehicles around the big-rig are positioned such that the truck can safely blend in with traffic. Experts emphasize that the onus is on the trucker, not on the other motorists on the road.  As a professional driver who also has had training on just how dangerous merging a truck into traffic is, the onus is on the truck driver to  avoid causing any accidents.

Finally, experts emphasize this fact: Oncoming motorists expect no intrusions, so their reaction time should be expected to be delayed. Motorists generally drive without any intrusions from their right, except for at designated ramps. Truckers need to be aware of this fact, and appreciate it.

Merging a semi-truck into traffic is already dangerous as it is, and truckers must be diligent, and conduct themselves professionally to avoid causing truck accidents when they are merging from the shoulder emergency lane back into ordinary traffic.

Joe Fried

About Joe Fried

Attorney Joe Fried is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable. Joe is the author of "Understanding Motor Carrier Claims" and a contributing author of "Truck Accident Litigation, Third Edition." Joe serves on the executive board of the American Association for Justice Truck Accident Lawyer Litigation Group as well as the Association of Plaintiffs Interstate Trucking Lawyers of America. Joe has been named a "Super Lawyer" and is listed in Best Lawyers in America. He has co-counseled with attorneys in 16 states on major truck accident cases, and lectures throughout the country to lawyers on trucking litigation and discovery.
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