Operators of commercial vehicles (commonly known as “18-wheelers”, “big rigs”, “semis” or “tractor-trailers”) and long-haul truckers are limited in the number of hours they can drive in a given day or week. Our nation’s highways have “truck stops” and other pull off points to permit truckers and other motorists the opportunity to pull off the road to rest, sleep, or to check their loads or investigate other problems. In certain instances, truckers are forced to stop on the side of the roadway. Where this happens, applicable regulations require them to issue warnings to motorists. Use of lights, hazard markers, reflectors or cones decrease, but do not necessarily eliminate, the significant risk which a stopped truck can present to others using the roadway, and many very serious accidents occur every year when an unsuspecting motorist collides with an illegally parked truck tractor-trailer.
While one may think that the size of a commercial truck alone would suffice to warn oncoming traffic, research has proven this is not entirely accurate. Human beings adjust their behavior based, in part, on what we expect to encounter. It takes time to perceive and react to hazards while driving. Patterns create predictability and serve to reduce the time it takes for persons to identify hazards and react to them. And the converse if also true: Unexpected situations increase the perception-reaction time. In other words, when a motorist encounters a stopped truck it will take time for them to perceive the hazard that truck presents and to react to it. Other factors, such as the existence of unusual angles in the roadway, the existence of glare or other lighting variations, obstructions to view or other variations in the surroundings, may combine to increase the time it takes for the driver to recognize the existence of the hazard presented by the truck and adjust action accordingly. If the circumstances push beyond critical thresholds, the driver may be completely deprived of the ability to avoid a collision, often with devastating or fatal results.
Subpart C of section 392.2 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations states that whenever a regulated vehicle, such as a big rig, is stopped on the traveled portion of the highway (or, under certain circumstances, on the shoulder of the roadway) the driver is obligated to activate his warning flashers immediately and to leave them activated, and to placed appropriate warning cones or markers on the roadway behind his/her vehicle as required by the rules. These cones or markers are to be placed on the highway behind the vehicle at specific distances, and must be placed as soon as possible, and within 10 minutes, of the time the truck’s driver has stopped.
Other characteristics of the area, such as whether it is located within a business or residential district, whether it is near a curve or the crest of a hill or other conditions which may obstruct the view of the vehicle, or the time of day may also impact upon the nature of the warnings which the operator is required to provide. The over-riding goal of these regulations is to insure ample warning is given to other motorists on the highway so as to reduce the potential for a collision. But ultimately, the responsibility for safety and for following through on the actions mandated by these important safety rules, falls to the driver of the tractor-trailer.