Road Injury Prevention Litigation Journal
Road Injury Prevention & Litigation Journal
Copyright © 2000 by TranSafety, Inc.
July, 2000
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Work Zone Traffic Control Proves Hazardous for Trucker -- Settlement at Trial
by Roy W. Anderson, P.E.
Originally published in the May 1986 TranSafety Reporter

(This summary of a legal case related to highway work zone safety is reproduced from the May 1986 (Volume 4, No. 5) issue of the TranSafety Reporter, published and edited by Roy W. Anderson, P.E. To find technical articles from the Reporter on work zone topics, please check on-line editions of the "Road Management & Engineering Journal" at this web site.)

At 2:15 p.m. on July 1, 1982, traffic was stopped or slowly moving in the two northbound lanes of I-81 in Scranton, Pennsylvania. One lane of the approach to a bridge-overpass was closed as work was being done to repair the shoulder preparatory to closing one of the two northbound lanes for re-surfacing of the bridge deck. Traffic was backed up in both open lanes into a left-bending curve at least six-tenths of a mile south from the work site. The congested traffic at the work site was obscured by a rock embankment and trees along the left to drivers entering the curve. The curving lanes were on a rather long and moderately steep (4 percent) downgrade.

A northbound tractor trailer entered the curve at about 50 mph, but was unable to see the stopped traffic in enough time to stop in the traffic lanes. To avoid a collision, the driver ran off the traveled lanes to the left and beyond the paved shoulder. The truck safely stopped between the paved shoulder and the rock embankment.

Shortly thereafter, a second tractor trailer, driven by Omar Stevenson, similarly without warning and unable to see the hazard ahead in sufficient time, and unable to stop in the traffic lanes, took similar evasive measures to the left and struck the first truck which blocked the available clear zone. Mr. Stevenson was severely injured.

In the suit that was brought, Mr. Stevenson claimed negligence in maintaining work zone safety against the G.A. and F.C. Wagman Company, the Pennsylvania DOT, and the James D. Morrisey Company. The suit was settled in Mr. Stevenson's favor for $195,000 during trial.

Mr. Stevenson's suit claimed that the subcontractor, in preparing the bridge site for subsequent bridge repair, had acted negligently in not following the Traffic Control Plan (TCP) contained in the contract for the preparatory work and in not taking other necessary traffic control measures.

At the time of the accident, the left of the two northbound lanes of the bridge and approach were closed. Cones were placed to indicate the closed lane and were set 200 to 300 feet south of the shoulder work. A flashing arrow sign, as specified in the contract, was in the closed lane. A second sign, ROAD CONSTRUCTION AHEAD, was on the left shoulder about 600 feet south of the work area delineated by the cones. In addition, a flagger was standing near the second sign. Traffic was congested; a stop-and-go situation extended six-tenths of a mile south from the bridge. This traffic congestion was not visible to oncoming traffic traveling at posted speeds before coming upon the left-turning curve and subsequent downgrade. The natural obstructions further reduced visibility of the hazard ahead for northbound traffic.

As traffic backed up in both lanes, the flagger did not move southward. The flagger was more than half a mile from where traffic was coming to a stop at the time of the accident. No traffic control devices or other procedures were used to warn drivers of the impending danger.

Dispute arose over which of two Pennsylvania DOT traffic control publications (nos. 43 or 90) should have been adhered to in lieu of the contract TCP. The analysis of the accident by the plaintiff's expert [Roy W. Anderson, P.E.] demonstrated that the reported traffic control used for the temporary work did not meet any requirements of the Penn DOT, the MUTCD, or the TCP.

If the contract TCP had been implemented, there would have been warning signs beginning at least one mile before the work zone. One or more signs would then have been visible to truckers as they came down the grade toward the congestion.

The contractor's foreman at the work zone had been warned by the State Police prior to the truck collision that traffic was backing up and that signs were needed much further south from the site to prevent accidents. No action was taken to erect signs after this warning.

According to the plaintiff's expert, though, the TCP would still not have provided the necessary warning to traffic. Every effort should have been made to keep traffic from being stopped or brought to a slow pace on the freeway. If slow-moving queues are anticipated, then extraordinary efforts must be made to advise approaching motorists of the hazard and where it is located. Trucks on downgrades should be advised before the downgrade so drivers can take needed action to slow down.

Because the approach to the site was a downgrade on a curve, extended stopping distances were mandatory, especially for large trucks. The natural obstructions to sight should have been evaluated. No drivers, especially truckers, should be "surprised" by stopped traffic on a freeway. While there are national road design requirements for stopping sight distances on horizontal curves required for automobiles, no such standards have been formulated for trucks, which require substantially longer distances, especially in circumstances such as those that prevailed on I-81 when Mr. Stevenson was severely injured.

The plaintiff was represented by Robert W. Munley, P.C., Scranton, Pennsylvania, (717) 346-7401.

Copyright © 2000 by TranSafety, Inc.

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