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Rules for warning devices when a truck is stopped near visual obstacles

Written by Steve Gursten Posted May 29th, 2014

When trucks break down, they have certain duties under the FMSCRs to alert other drivers with warning devices and avoid a truck accident

truck driving through mountainsI was recently consulted about an unfortunate truck accident that left several people seriously injured. A commercial truck was rounding a sharp curve and broke down on a mountainous stretch of highway in California. A second semi-truck was traveling in the same direction around the same curve some time later.

Unfortunately, the second truck was unable to see the first, and rear-ended the first semi. But the crash didn’t stop there. A third semi-truck came rounding the same corner.  You can probably guess the rest.  This third truck had very little warning of the danger  lurking around the corner, and by the time the driver saw the two stopped semi-trucks, he had to swerve off of the road to avoid a third collision. It didn’t help the truck, however.  This third truck was also wrecked after veering off road.

This leads to why they were calling a lawyer: Who’s at fault here?

Semi-trucks, even those that are well maintained, will break down sometimes. It’s a foreseeable hazard.  There are things that companies and drivers can do to lower the likelihood of a truck breaking down. For example, truckers are required to make pre-trip inspections, and trucking companies are required to properly maintain their fleets. But the truth is, sometimes the unexpected really does happen. Even a well-maintained big-rig truck may still break down even when a truck driver has done a thorough pre-trip inspection, and a good trucking company regularly performs safety and maintenance work on a truck.

But remember, when the unexpected does happen, truckers still have certain duties according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs). Specifically, pursuant to §392.2 of the rules, trucks are mandated to activate hazard lights (§ 393.22(a)), and warning devices (§392.22(b)(1)) in a certain manner.

But what if there’s an obstruction to a truck driver’s view?

What makes this scenario above different is that there was an obstruction to the oncoming drivers’ view — the curve. There are, however, special safety rules that govern a truck driver’s placement of warning devices when obstructions like hills, curves, or other impediments, are present in the roadway.

The special rules can be found in §392.22(b)(2)(iv). Under this rule, in the presence of “[h]ills, curves, and obstructions,” the warning devices required under (b)(1) must be placed ” in the direction of the obstruction to view a distance of 100 feet to 500 feet from the stopped commercial motor vehicle so as to afford ample warning to other users of the highway.”

Normally, warning devices are placed up to 100 feet from the stopped semi-truck. But when there’s an obstacle, 100 feet becomes the minimum allowed distance.

So now the answer to the question above:

  • The first truck is at fault for not putting out the warning devices.
  • The second truck might be at fault depending on his speed and for failing to stop within an assured clear distance, but this will depend on some calculations of speed, perception and time to determine actual fault.
  • The second truck driver could be blameless if he or she had no chance to avoid crashing into the first disabled truck.
  • The same analysis would go for truck No. 3 – and depending on how long truck 2 was stopped, the second truck driver would be at fault for failing to place warning devices pursuant to 392.22(b)(2)(iv).

If a  semi-truck breaks down on a hill, a curve, or some other obstacle is obstructing other drivers’ view, the rules are different! You have to give far more warning that normally required under § 392.22(b)(1).

Perhaps if there were warning devices down 500 feet ahead of the semi-truck,  the entire truck accident could have been avoided.

Related information:

Preventing low light truck crashes: Laws for semi truck visibility and reflective tape


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About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.
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