It takes experienced skill to control a fully loaded class 8 truck under any condition. Tweak just one factor, such as driving down a steep grade, and the potential for trouble increases. Even a well-maintained rig that’s regularly inspected and is safety compliant can experience brake failure under certain conditions. When that happens, a runaway truck ramp is pretty much the only safe way to stop a 40-ton missile from taking out everyone and everything in its path.
The Need for Escape Ramps
It’s estimated that sometime in the 1960s highway officials started looking for ways to minimize runaway truck accidents. There’s not a lot of data from before 1980. However, an NHTSA report notes that there were 2450 incidents involving runaway trucks in 1981. Those numbers reveal that heavy-duty trucks speed out of control more often than most people might realize.
The issue is that because of the non-synchronized transmission, downshifting isn’t an option for controlling a semi’s speed when driving down a steep grade. The brakes are the only way to slow the truck down in that situation. But, with a full load, that puts a lot of pressure on the brake system—about 80,000 pounds of it actually. Picking up speed on a downhill grade makes the problem of brake fade worse. Some drivers experience full-on brake failure and before they know it, the situation is out of control.
Different Types of Runaway Truck Ramps
So, how do you stop a runaway rig? Since gravity is typically the cause, it makes sense to use it in reverse when semi brakes fail. Steep gravel ramps running off and up at the side of the road near the end of a steep decline are known as a “gravity escape ramps.” It’s the type of runaway truck ramp most commonly used in mountainous areas. The gravel and the steep rise work together to stop the truck quickly.
Other runaway truck ramp types include:
Sand pile ramps—used on less steep grades, a series of sand piles placed on a short ramp help stop speeding trucks
Arrester bed ramps—a short ramp covered with gravel used on minimal grade slopes
Mechanical-arrester ramps—stainless-steel nets stretched across the road near the beginning of the ramp. This design is similar to the concept used on aircraft carriers to help stop planes coming in for a landing.
Not all ramps go uphill. Some run on nearly level ground alongside the road. Others run into the median. What’s more, runaway truck ramps often have concrete barriers running along the sides. They help keep out-of-control trucks on the ramp and offer additional assistance for stopping and keeping the truck upright. As you can imagine, having to use a runaway truck ramp can cause some damage. Plus, there’s no way other than a tow to get a truck back off the ramp, even if the rig doesn’t tip over after it’s stopped.
Runaway Truck Ramp Placement
There are almost 200 runaway truck ramps in the U.S. Not surprisingly, most of them are in the mountainous western states. When considering where to install a runaway truck ramp, states look at:
- the number of accidents caused by runaway trucks and where they occur
- issues at the end of the grade (is there an abrupt bend? a traffic entry point? any buildings?)
- amount of traffic on the grade and what percentage is heavy-duty trucks
A runaway truck ramp is a good safety measure to have around when you need it. However, using an escape ramp is costly. There’s a fine for utilizing them. Add that to the damage it can cause, then factor in the danger an out-of-control truck poses. Those are the biggest reasons drivers are typically extra-careful when driving down steep grades. It’s also why maintenance is so important.
Properly maintaining heavy-duty trucks keeps them safe. It reduces the number of things that can go wrong on steep grades or straightaways. Fullbay helps fleets improve safety by simplifying PM schedules and keeping track of all repairs and maintenance on every truck in your fleet. The software is easy to implement and user-friendly, so it’s just as easy to operate. Interested in giving it a try? Just fill in the form below: