Have you traveled an interstate near you lately and noticed 18-wheelers parked on the shoulder? It happens so frequently on Interstate 10 between San Antonio and Beaumont that it isn’t uncommon to see as many as seven or eight big rigs pulled over on the shoulder. Is it legal for 18-wheelers, commercial trucks, and the like to park there? Is the shoulder lane available for parking to anyone at all? The answers to these questions might surprise you.
What is the Purpose of Highway Shoulders?
According to the Roadside Design Guide by the American Association of Highway Transportation Officials:
- Highway shoulders, or the Clear Zone, are "an unobstructed, traversable roadside area that allows a driver to stop safely, or regain control of a vehicle that has left the roadway. The width of the clear zone should be based on risk [of immediate danger]. Key factors in assessing risk include traffic volumes, speeds, and slopes. Clear roadsides consider both fixed objects and terrain that may cause vehicles to rollover."
Occupied Shoulders Create Highway Dangers
Not only are 18-wheelers parking in the “recovery zones”, they present a much greater danger to the traffic on those freeways. As the name implies, big rigs are not only larger and heavier than regular vehicles, the trailers behind them are also significantly higher. This matters tremendously because if a car traveling at highway speeds strikes a personal vehicle, it is striking a vehicle roughly the same size, weight, and height. But if a personal vehicle, in particular a car, strikes the side of an 18-wheeler, the larger truck is the perfect height to sheer off the top of the car and catastrophically injure anyone inside it.
In 1967, American film actress Jayne Mansfield died on U.S. Highway 90 when her Buick crashed at a high speed into the rear of a tractor-trailer. At that time, 18-wheeler trailers did not have protective bars to prevent a vehicle hitting it from behind from going underneath the trailer. Her horrific death spurred the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to recommend requiring the protective bar — sometimes called a Mansfield Bar — on the rear of 18-wheelers below the trailer bed floor. However, the sides of trailers are still unequipped with Mansfield Bars and capable of causing similarly catastrophic accidents.
It is important to also note that 18-wheelers have very specific rules about stopping in “recovery zones”. The most important rule from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is §392.22 Emergency signals; stopped commercial motor vehicles. To learn more about this rule and its implications for liability in truck accidents that occur in recovery zones, be sure to visit our blog frequently, as we will discuss it in our next entry. Until then, safe travels to all.