Who’s to blame when a semi truck parked on the freeway causes a crash?
USDOT determined to curb commercial truckers parking on the side of the road with more rest stops – but what about public safety and putting the onus on truck drivers?
Some of the most serious truck accident lawsuits we’ve had as attorney members of the Roundtable have occurred because truck drivers improperly parked where they shouldn’t have.
In one of my cases, a truck driver made an illegal turnaround on the highway and then got stuck, parked the truck. This caused the death of another commercial trucker who crashed into him because he didn’t see the white truck sticking out and blocking the road on a foggy night in time. The trailer did not have proper conspicuity tape and with the weather conditions, my deceased client never had a chance to perceive and react to avoid the crash.
And just this month in Houston, I read about another semi truck parked on a highway shoulder for two days that was also involved in a crash that claimed the life of 42-year-old Marcus Fulton. The driver was in the sleeper of the truck when this wreck occurred.
Two months earlier, a woman died after crashing her car into an 18-wheeler parked on the side of another major Houston highway. According to authorities, the woman apparently did not see the truck on the side of the road before slamming into the back end. She reportedly died on impact.
The legal seminars I attend and regularly teach at often discuss this issue, which is a source of many preventable crashes. And now the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration is finally looking into how to reduce the amount of semi trucks parked along major U.S. highways. The agency recently conducted a study that revealed some pretty unsettling results.
USDOT authorities discovered that almost half of the state departments of transportation surveyed reported that truckers were forced to park on freeway interchange ramps and shoulders of highways due to a lack of facilities and rest stops.
I’ve written about this issue before, although my writings have been more as a safety advocate and not as an attorney. In late 2012, when Jason’s Law was instituted, I talked about how often people were getting involved in crashes with parked semi trucks on roads and how foreseeable these crashes were, along with the need to do more to prevent them. The law provided more than $6 million in federal funding toward the construction and restoration of safe roadside parking lots where truck drivers can rest.
Part of Jason’s law involves a USDOT survey to determine if adequate parking is available for truck drivers based on the level of commercial traffic in the state. Along with state departments of transportation, the USDOT surveyed safety officials, truckers and truck stop operators and other trucking industry stakeholders.
The Department’s findings in the “Jason’s Law Truck Parking Survey Results and Comparative Analysis” show most states reported having truck parking shortages occurring at all times of the day on every day of the week. The analysis includes a discussion of the factors that can influence truck parking and offers ways to improve the measurement of the truck parking problem, including the collection of data on supply and demand, congestion and safety.
In the meantime, the National Coalition on Truck Parking announced it will continue working to find solutions to truck parking needs and will include the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the American Trucking Associations, the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association, the National Association of Truck Stop Operators and the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance in finding these solutions.
“Highway safety depends in part on making sure hardworking, professional truck drivers have a safe place to recuperate after spending hours on the road,” said FMCSA Acting Administrator Scott Darling in a recent press release.
Over the coming months, representatives with the USDOT and the National Coalition on Truck Parking say they will begin discussions with state and local governments, law enforcement and the trucking and business communities to work together to advance truck parking solutions to meet the needs of the nation’s truck drivers.
But it’s important to note that while Darling and the federal officials are correct about the importance of safe rest stops and facilities for truckers’ rest breaks, we cannot look the other way when a truck driver negligently parks and puts other drivers in jeopardy. Truck drivers must be trained to locate safe rest stops that do not impede traffic (within their required breaks under the HOS), and also understand how to properly park. This starts with proper training and guidelines by the motor carriers, as well as responsibility and planning on the truckers’ behalf.