Semi-trucks have gotten fancy these days. If truckers do long, cross-state or cross-country deliveries, they need somewhere to sleep without having to pay and arm and a leg for consistent hotel accommodations. To combat this, the fanciest of long-haul semis come with neat, not-so-little sleeper cabs built right into them. These days, truckers can bring their beds, and sometimes dressers, tables, kitchenettes, televisions, and more right along with them while they rev down the highway. For this reason (among others), truckers have begun a frustrating trend: pulling over to make home-sweet-home wherever they would like.
Though you likely see large semi-trucks parked along the side of highways, exit ramps, and even city or suburb streets with some frequency, most times those trucks are actually not allowed to be parked there. Truck stops and other designated semi-truck parking areas exist for more than just giving truckers an easy place to fit their semi overnight. They exist to protect drivers like you on the road.
Why Semi-Truck Shoulder Parking is Dangerous
Have you ever heard the term “sitting duck”? The words alone probably cause your mind to conjure images of a feathered friend hanging out in the middle of a pond, and this is actually a perfect way to think about it. That’s because the definition of a sitting duck is something (or someone) with no protection against an attack or other sources of danger. It’s something that’s blissfully unaware that it’s about to face a very real problem. A duck enjoying a float on a pond may not be aware of the coyote crouched on the shore, ready to leap in with jaws wide open.
We call accidents with semi-trucks parked on the side of the road “sitting duck accidents.” That’s because while the trucker is parked on the side of the road, snoozing in their sleeper cab, they’re blissfully unaware that they are a sitting duck just waiting to be struck by an unsuspecting car zipping past them. But before you go thinking we’re on the side of the semi-truck in this scenario, you should know the realities behind what a truck being a sitting duck really means.
Not only have semi-trucks gotten fancier, but they also seem to be getting bigger and bigger with each new model that comes out. And the bigger the vehicle, the more severe the resulting accident with them. Because semi-trucks have so much size and weight advantage over most of the other cars they share the road with, it’s almost a guarantee that the other car involved in the accident will come out worse for wear. And that’s the vehicle we side with.
A Very Real Semi-Truck Accident Scenario
Say you’re taking your family on a weekend trip from St. Louis to Kansas City. You’ve got a nearly four hour straight-shot drive down I-70, meaning at some point, you’ll likely need to pull off the road for a bathroom break. After two hours, you decide to take the next exit to do just that. You approach your exit, follow the curve around and away from the highway, and notice a semi-truck parked on the side of the road. Its size makes it impossible to see around the rest of the curve, so you proceed with caution. Even so, you suddenly clip the back of a sedan you just couldn’t see in time. Both cars spin out and ram into the side of the parked semi-truck. Your minivan has the latest safety features, but even at thirty-five miles per hour, your car is smashed, causing severe whiplash, deploying the airbags, and subsequently causing bruises, lacerations, and even broken bones on those who they make impact with. The car you hit suffers much the same fate.
The trucker sleeping soundly in his cab has certainly startled awake after the impact shook his entire vehicle. But thanks to the sheer size and position of his truck, he’s relatively unscathed. Meanwhile, your weekend getaway is over before it even started.
Later, while you sit in a hospital room getting your broken arm tended to, you replay the scenario over and over in your head. You drove carefully, taking the exit at exactly the posted speed. The semi-truck was pulled over and parked on the side of the road. Even though you couldn’t quite see around it, you’re the one who technically hit the car in front of you, and then couldn’t stop from spinning out and hitting the truck too. Now you and your family are paying the consequences, while the truck driver is on his way to make his delivery as planned. So you must be thinking you’re at fault for all the damage you’ve caused, right? Well, you might want to think again.
The Legalities of Semi-Truck Parking
Unless otherwise noted by road signage, the shoulder of the road is only meant for emergency stops. That goes for all vehicles. If an accident occurs or there’s an issue with a passenger, the vehicle is permitted to stop on the shoulder to address the emergency. Once the emergency has hopefully been resolved, the vehicle must legally get back on the road. That’s because a vehicle stopped where it shouldn’t be is ripe for being struck by the other vehicles moving past it, or for causing other accidents around it.
When the vehicle parked on the side of the road is a semi-truck, it becomes a much more dangerous hazard. Its size draws the eyes of other drivers, decreases visibility around it, and gives less room for reaction or avoidance. All those disadvantages coupled with its sheer size and weight make it a verifiable weapon against all other cars—even if it’s just sitting there.
Truck drivers have federal laws to follow that limit the number of consecutive hours they’re allowed to drive, as well as the number of hours they must rest before they can get back behind the wheel. In an effort to follow these regulations, drivers will usually pull into a truck stop. But when the nearest truck stop’s parking spaces are completely filled by other trucks, truckers may resort to just pulling off on the highway shoulder to catch a nap. Though they’re following one federal law, the fact is, they’re breaking another one by doing so.
Because of these laws, even if you are the one to strike the sitting duck, or you are involved in an accident caused by decreased visibility around the sitting duck, you may not be held liable for the accident. Fault may very well fall to the driver and/or the trucking company that employs them. This could even be true if the truck is stopped for actual emergency purposes, but has failed to lay out necessary warnings (like cones, flares, or signage) that indicate themselves as a hazard to be wary of. That means you may be able to receive compensation from their insurance provider for all the damage you’ve suffered as a result of your accident.
These days, truck stops are getting fuller and fuller, both overnight and during the day. Increases in things like retail deliveries mean there are more semi-trucks on the road competing for coveted spots for a rest. This inevitably means that more and more semis are parking where they shouldn’t be. Though not having a legal spot to park may not entirely be the trucker’s fault, neither is it yours. So you should always consider the circumstances of what may have really caused your accident, and team up with a trucking accident lawyer who will fight for your right to compensation accordingly.