Pulling Out Into Traffic


DATE: 10/07/2009


REFERENCE: Large Truck Crash Causation Study & Analysis of Crossing Path Countermeasure Systems


How the Incident Occurred

After making his pickup, a driver prepared to pull out from the entrance of the plant onto a two lane rural highway. It was close to midnight and the intersection was not lit, other than the lights from his rig. After checking for traffic, he began his pull out, turning left onto the two-lane asphalt highway. Half way through his turn as he began to straighten his tractor up, he first noticed an approaching vehicle’s headlights heading towards him. Realizing that the back portion of his trailer that had not yet cleared the turn, he flashed his bright lights to warn the oncoming motorist, but to no avail. The oncoming car failed to stop in time and crashed into the rear tandems of the trailer.

Injury/Damage Information

As a result of the collision, the driver of the car was killed and his passenger was severely injured. Their late model Cadillac Escalade was considered a total.

Facts about the case

Post crash analysis revealed that:

  • An average of 12 – 13 seconds elapsed from the time the glow of oncoming lo-beam headlights became visible to the truck driver as the approaching car neared the crest of a hill that blocked full view of the vehicle.
  • Multiple controlled timings of the driver’s pullout revealed that it was possible for the semi driver to complete the turn in 12-15 seconds.
  • Although weather conditions were clear and pavement dry, overall visibility was poor due to night time conditions and lack of lighting
  • Condition of conspicuity tape on trailer had deteriorated and was covered with road grime and mud

Causative Factors

  • The driver of the approaching car was effectively blinded by the bright lights of the truck when the driver flashed them in an attempted warning.
  • The conspicuity tape was ineffective due to not having been cleaned and maintained.
  • The truck driver failed to recognize that there was a steep hill that limited visibility and pull out as quickly as possible to avoid potential conflicts.

Remedial actons

Drivers need training and experience to understand when their maneuver may involve "Risk Increasing Factor" (RIF). Statistical analysis shows that left-hand turns across the path of oncoming traffic have propensity for being a "critical event" and can lead to severe crashes. This is especially true in poor visibility conditions that limit the response time of oncoming traffic. Drivers should use extreme caution when making this type of maneuver and look for alternate routes or seek assistance to check for traffic before proceeding.

If pulling into and through an uncontrolled intersection is the only option – do not creep out. Shift into higher gears and complete the maneuver as quickly as possible.

Ensure that thorough pre-trip and maintenance inspection procedures are in place and that all personnel understand and abide by them. Supervisors should perform, document and review periodic behavior observations to ensure compliance. At minimum, safety checks must ensure that lights, signals, reflectors and conspicuity tape are present, are in good condition and operate properly. As the driver performs his safety inspection, he should take a rag with him and wipe down the conspicuity tape, reflectors, and lights on his tractor and trailer.

By flashing hi-beams on/off, oncoming motorists may experience temporary loss of night vision and be unable to see the hazard that they are being warned against. In addition, since they cannot see the hazard, they assume that they are being told to dim their lights, and do not perceive the flashing lights as a warning. To warn other motorists, drivers should sound their horn or quickly turn their lights off/on. Never flash your bright lights at oncoming traffic.


The ability of the driver to make sound decisions is a critical aspect of accident free driving. The foundation of such decision making is knowledge, much of which is provided through effective safety training. Too often, we admonish drivers to "Be Safe", or "Be Careful", without ever providing them with the tools to do so.

In the above case, had the driver been provided with effective training, he would have recognized the danger that the shortened field of visibility represented.

He would have also been taught to clean his lights and reflective striping. This would have made the side of his truck much more visible to approaching traffic.

Most certainly, he should have been taught the danger of flashing his bright lights at oncoming traffic and blinding them to the dangers ahead. When communicating with other motorists, vision is the most critical sense needed to make sound driving decisions. In a case such as this, by the time that the driver begins flashing his lights, the only person who has any opportunity to prevent the collision is effectively blinded and prevented from doing so.

The moral of the story? - Driver decisions are critical to safe operation, but without the foundation of proper training, improper decisions and the resulting collisions will occur. The cost of not training drivers far exceeds the risk of limited or no training programs or driver safety meetings.