You have seen it before, sometimes a closer call than others: A tractor-trailer combination that had been stopped on highway shoulder attempts to pull back onto the highway from a stopped position or slow rate of speed. To complicate matters, sometimes these dangerous driving maneuvers are at nighttime when it is almost impossible to see, never mind react to such a dangerous driving action.
Visibility of tractor-trailers merging from a highway shoulder, to the travel portion of a busy highway at nighttime is a huge national problem. All large commercial motor vehicles are required to have red and white reflective tape and/or conspicuity sheeting to make them visible to oncoming traffic. All too often that tape becomes dirty and/or worn, making it less effective and in certain circumstances, not effective at all. Moreover, it loses effectiveness when viewed at an angle, such as when a truck is merging from the roadway’s shoulder and back onto the travel portion of the roadway. The million-dollar question is at what distance an operator of a motor vehicle recognizes such a hazard on a dark road and the time react to same. In most nighttime circumstances it is nearly impossible for a motorist traveling at the posted speed limit to perceive, react and avoid a poorly illuminated tractor-trailer combination that is merging slowly from a shoulder back onto the travel portion of the roadway. Many times, a driver is unable to avoid a tragic crash caused by the much larger merging commercial motor vehicle.
With any vehicle that stops on a highway shoulder, it must eventually merge back onto the highway. It goes without saying that for commercial motor vehicles, because of their great size and weight, this is very dangerous situation. Close your eyes and think about how much time it would take a fully loaded tractor-trailer to accelerate and get up to highway speed, in comparison to your personal car! That is why truck drivers are typically trained not to use the shoulder unless it is a necessity.
Is there a safe way for tractor trailer to merge back onto a busy highway? Is there a safe way for a tractor trailer to merge back onto a busy highway at nighttime? Some experts suggest that once a truck is ready to move from the shoulder back into the flow of traffic, a driver should deactivate his emergency hazard flashers, activate his left turn signal and begin to accelerate his truck up to highway speed while still completely positioned on the shoulder. Specifically, a truck driver should reach a speed close to that of traffic and watch for a safe space to merge back onto the travel lanes. A truck driver must always ensure that he can safely merge without causing an accident. Activating the left turn signal notifies approaching motorists on the travel portion of the roadway that the commercial vehicle has gone from a stopped condition, to a mobile condition and intends to merge back into traffic. The left turn signal should not be activated until the truck is ready to move — while the truck is immobile the emergency lights should always be on.
What else can a truck driver do to be safe in these situations? We always look to the Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) Manual in the state in which the truck collision occurs, the state in which the truck driver is licensed and the state in which the company is based. CDL manuals instruct drivers on many useful topics to complete this driving maneuver as safely as possible:
- A driver needs to be aware of what is always going on around his vehicle, specifically, not keeping a proper lookout is a major cause of accidents;
- A driver needs to be aware of what is always going on down the sides of and the rear of his vehicle. A driver needs to understand what is happening behind and to the sides of his vehicle, and to regularly check his mirrors, and more often in special situations;
- A driver needs to check their mirror adjustment prior to the start of any trip and that can only be performed accurately when the trailer is straight. Doing this provides the driver with a reference point for judging the position of others using the roadway;
- A driver needs to constantly check their mirrors for vehicles on either side and/or behind their vehicle. In an emergency, a truck driver needs to understand whether he can make a quick lane change. A truck driver needs to also use their mirrors to spot overtaking vehicles, to know where other vehicles are in relation to the vehicle and to see if another vehicle may have moved into your blind spot;
- There are special situations that require a truck driver to check his mirrors more often, specifically lane changes, turns, merges, and tight maneuvers;
- Lane changes require a truck driver to check their mirrors to make sure no one is alongside their vehicle and/or about to pass;
- To check mirrors before changing lanes to make sure there is enough room to do so safely and without incident;
- To check mirrors again after signaling a lane change to ensure no vehicle have moved into a blind spot;
- To check mirrors right after they begin the lane change to double-check the path is clear;
- To check their mirrors right after they complete the lane change;
- To use mirrors whenever merging to ensure the gap in traffic is large enough to enter another lane safely; and
- To signal driving intentions so that other drivers can know what driving actions the much larger commercial vehicle will make.
Commercial motor vehicle operators learn these basic principles when obtaining their commercial driver’s licenses. They are typically retrained in these principles by their employers and they must utilize them whenever operating a commercial motor vehicle. As you can image, an 80,000-pound tractor trailer does not take off with great speed from a standing/stopped position when entering the highway. Thus, a professional truck driver must utilize the principles they learned in obtaining their CDL and allow plenty of time and space to enter traffic lanes from the highway shoulder. Bordas & Bordas has handled many commercial trucking accidents where truck drivers decided to pull into a traffic lane when it was not safe to do so. Please call us to discuss if you or a loved one has been affected and/or harmed in such a circumstance.
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