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Unsafe at Zero Speed: The Law on Warning Other Drivers About a Stopped Big Rig

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Everyone’s familiar with the looming danger posed by a tractor-trailer flying down the highway.

But some of the most horrifically unexpected semi-truck crashes occur when the machines aren’t even moving. An 18-wheeler stopped on the side of the road without any warning to innocent motorists presents a lethal hazard. It’s inviting drivers to slam head-on at highway speed into an immovable object. In fact, the South Carolina Commercial Driver’s License manual, on which truck drivers are tested to earn a trucking license, instruct truckers that innocent drivers can mistake a stopped truck for a moving one if it’s not properly marked.

That’s why federal law, enforced by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, mandates warning drivers there’s a stopped semi-truck ahead. 

When to Warn

The regulations require truckers to warn drivers when they stop the truck on the highway or on the roadside unless it’s a necessary traffic stop.

Warning Devices and Placement

The trucker must take the following steps to provide a safe, legal warning:

  • Hazard lights. These must be turned on immediately, and they stay on until the other warning devices are placed. The trucker must turn the hazard lights back on when he picks up the other warning devices. He can keep the lights on the whole time.
  • Other required warning devices. These must be put down ASAP and within a minimum of 10 minutes. Truckers must be equipped with either 3 emergency reflective triangles that can be seen from either side or 3 to 6 road flares (the number of flares depends on the type of flare that’s used).
  • Placement of triangles or flares. One goes on the traffic side of the truck, about 10 feet from the truck in the direction of approaching traffic. Another is put in the center of the traffic lane or shoulder occupied by the truck, about 100 feet from the truck, in the direction of approaching traffic. A final one is put in the center of the lane or shoulder occupied by the truck, about 100 feet away from the truck, in the direction away from approaching traffic.

Exceptions

Where would the law be without them? The regulations give these exceptions:

  • Business or residential districts. If a commercial truck is stopped in a business or residential district, warning devices are not required unless headlights are needed or road lighting prevents clearly seeing the truck from a distance of 500 feet.
  • Hills, curves, and obstructions. If a big rig is stopped within 500 feet of one of these, the warning signals must be placed from 100 to 500 feet from the truck to give better warning to other drivers.
  • Divided or one-way roads. The trucker must put two warning devices in the center of the lane occupied by the truck and facing approaching traffic—one at 200 feet and another at 100 feet from the truck. A third warning device goes about 10 feet from the rear on the traffic side.

Don’t Let a Parked Semi Run You Over

Tragic crashes caused by unmarked or improperly marked, stopped 18-wheelers happen for a variety of reasons. Maybe the trucker was just careless. Or maybe he didn’t do the required pre-trip inspection that would’ve shown he didn’t have the proper warning equipment—or that it didn’t work. For faulty equipment, you may be able to hold the trucking company accountable. In fact, there are a number of ways to hold the trucking company accountable, potentially giving you access to additional compensation.

But no matter how bad you’re hurt or how wrong the trucker and trucking company were, you can count on their insurance company to fight you tooth and nail to avoid giving you a proper settlement. And they are very, very good at what they do. It’s nothing for them to hold out to wear you down or look the other way when you shortchange yourself into a cheap settlement because you don’t know any better. Don’t let that happen to you.  

Get your questions answered by an experienced professional. Learn more about your case on our trucking page. Fill out our Get Help Now form to get a response from an experienced trucking accident attorney or call us toll-free at 888-230-1841 to set up a free, no-pressure strategy session. 

 

Rob Usry
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Rob is a South Carolina personal injury and criminal defense lawyer.
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