Legal Overview & Implications of US Truck Freeway Parking Case

Posted on Thu, 2013-12-05 13:34

The Canadian Trucking Alliance has shared an analysis of the recent decision by a US jury to award more than $150 million in damages to a 13-year-old girl whose parents and a brother died in 2009 after their SUV struck a tractor-trailer parked on the shoulder of a freeway and its impact on motor carriers operating in the US.

The Los Angeles jury made the award in October 2013, based on its finding that the truck driver and the trucking company were jointly negligent for parking on the side of Interstate 210 without engaging the truck’s hazard warning flashers or placing emergency warning devices/reflectors to indicate its presence. The truck also parked in an area signed for emergency stopping only (although in a dirt area just off the highway shoulder), which the driver ignored in order to pull over and take medication for a severe headache.

An analysis on the case prepared for CTA by a legal team at Bennett Schechter Arcuri & Will LLP (whose founder Joel B. Schechter is also president of the Trucking Industry Defense Association) presents a cautionary tale about the worst-case scenario for parking a tractor-trailer on the side or shoulder of a highway. Although the use of hazard lights and emergency reflectors for road side stops is always a good idea, the paper also lists considerations set out by Section 392.22 of the US Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations that drivers should know and take into account at all times, as follows:

  • Time of day: During daylight hours, a driver is only required to deploy reflective triangles, fuses, or flares within 10 minutes of parking. Emergency lighting does not need to be activated. While daylight hours are not specifically defined in the section, the purpose of this rule is to ensure that the vehicle can be seen by other traffic.

  • Location of the Highway: During daylight hours or where highway lighting is insufficient, warning lighting is not required within business or residential districts of municipalities. However, the vehicle must still be visible from a distance of 500 feet.

  • Visibility: Where hills, curves or other obstructions to the view of the vehicle by traffic are within 500 feet, warning devices must be placed 100 to 500 feet prior to the vehicle to give ample warning to traffic. Ensuring that the vehicle is visible to traffic is the primary concern to parking along highways. Case law reveals that where a parked vehicle is visible at a reasonable distance a driver has not acted negligently so as to be a substantial cause of an accident.

  • Purpose for stopping: Section 392.22 does not expressly prohibit stopping along highways for non-emergency reasons, and there is no limitation on the amount of time a vehicle may be stopped along a highway. However, it cannot be ignored that the requirement that drivers activate emergency lighting while parked along a highway implies that parking in such an area should only be done in emergency situations. It is clear that states consider it dangerous for other traffic. Whether illness and/or fatigue, in and of themselves, constitute an emergency is unclear, a driver should only park on the side of a highway if the risk of driving to a designated or permissible parking area outweighs the risk of staying along the shoulder.

The paper goes on to say that “stopping in an area that is expressly limited for emergencies only should be avoided unless there is no other reasonable option available to the driver. Given the intent of state laws, it can be implied that drivers who park in these areas assume the responsibility for accidents that result from creating a risk to other vehicles.”

Click here to download a copy of the full analysis. You may also want to consider e-mailing this Bulletin article to Safety Managers and/or your drivers.