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When is steering a semi-truck left over the center line advisable? Never!

Written by Steve Gursten Posted March 13th, 2014

steering truck left center lane

I was recently involved in a serious truck accident case that has resulted in litigation. One of the key issues in the case was whether (under the circumstances of the crash) it was appropriate for the trucker to drive left and cross the center line into the oncoming traffic lane.

This crossing over the center line led to a serious head-on truck wreck, which resulted in horrible injuries to an  innocent motorist who suddenly found a giant truck coming at him in his lane of travel.

In my case, the defense lawyer  raised the argument that it was appropriate for the truck to steer left of center.  So I did what a good attorney should always do  — I investigated.  After reviewing every single training manual, every source of law, and every other reference I could,  I found the answer to my question.

It is never appropriate for a truck driver to steer left and cross the center line into the oncoming traffic lane.

Truckers are highly trained professionals.  And driving a modern semi-trucks is, in many ways, more similar to a pilot flying a plane than it is to you or I driving a normal passenger car. Driving these very large and heavy trucks is  difficult. It takes a high degree of skill and a special test and license that’s required to drive trucks on the public highways.

And as I found when I was researching this argument,  there is no source whatsoever that states it is okay to cross over and steer a semi-truck into an oncoming traffic lane.

This remains true with sudden emergencies, bad weather, traffic jams or any other scenario you can imagine.

A truck driver is never supposed to steer left across the center line. This is not a game of chance.  The innocent people on the other side of the road are not empty chambers in a pistol.  You are not playing Russian Roulette.

In fact, truckers are trained to do the exact opposite.  If confronted with an emergency (even one concocted by a skilled defense attorney, as I see more often than not) they are supposed to steer in the complete opposite direction (literally). Professional truck drivers are trained to steer their semi-trucks to the right in an emergency situation.

This is because:

  • The emergency lane or shoulder is always to the right. Typically, hazardous things are always to the left, like oncoming traffic, barriers or another lane of cars passing.
  • Big-rig trucks should usually be in the right lane anyway. Many highways have established lower speed limits for large trucks. Because they are driving more slowly than other traffic (or at least they should be), semi-trucks should be in the right lane anyway. In fact, in some jurisdictions law enforcement has started really cracking down on the “left lane for pass only” rules. Anybody in the left lane who isn’t passing or who isn’t moving faster than the rest of traffic (including truck drivers) is ticketed.
  • Left turns are among the most dangerous maneuvers a trucker will perform in his or her rig.

With all this said, there may be situations where it is acceptable and even preferred to steer left into an adjacent lane; but that is very different from my case.  To be clear, it is never okay to steer left and cross the center line into oncoming traffic.

Steven Gursten Photo

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.