Runaway Truck!

On January 26, 2012 · 17 Comments

I went on a brief roadtrip last Autumn, an experience I described in more detail in my Adventures along Maryland I-70/68. I mentioned a massive road cut at Sideling Hill. I couldn’t find a reason to highlight another feature, a runaway truck ramp just west of the cut as one descends descends the hill at great speed. I had enough material for the article so I saved it for another day.

You’ve probably seen these ramps too: odd, stubby stretches of roadway designed to halt trucks in their tracks should brakes fail while descending scary road grades. They exist all over the world with a similar purpose although under different names. Runaway truck ramp; truck arrester bed; safety ramp; escape bays, escape ramps and other variations influenced by engineering techniques or geography. Let’s see one in action during a 2009 test conducted by Canada’s Ministry of Transportation on Highway 11 in North Bay, Ontario. This one comes courtesy of YouTube. It’s all rather self-explanatory.

Few people probably realize that there are several different types. Auto Evolution describes four of them: A gravity escape ramp forces a truck uphill so gravity can slow it down. Arrester material ramps feature a thick gravel layer or some similar material causing friction as a truck passes. Sand pile ramps work in a similar manner. Arrester barriers act somewhat like arresting wires on an aircraft carrier as trucks barrel through a series of cable nets. Designs can be mixed-and-matched. The one I saw in western Maryland combined a gravity ramp with sand piles.

Runaway truck ramps have become a common roadway feature in mountainous areas. They also come in handy more than I imagined. Car and Driver explains,

By 1990, there were reportedly 170 runaway ramps in 27 (mostly western) states. Current data is scarce, but a 1981 NHTSA study notes there had been 2450 runaway-truck incidents that year, with 2150 of those involving the use of ramps… [a study described] the stopping inertia as “strong but absent the jarring impact of other crashes.” Vehicle damage was confined to lower engine accessories and air tanks.


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Does this stretch of highway look familiar? It should. I found the exact place along Highway 11 in North Bay featured in the video. The most difficult part of today’s article was finding runaway truck ramps on Street View. They aren’t labeled and I had to search areal imagery in painful detail before drilling down. I’m actually pretty proud of myself for finding this one.

This ramp definitely has cable nets and possibly gravel judging by the dust kicked-up as the truck makes its approach in the video.

United States

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I already mentioned the example in Maryland. This particular version can be found just outside of Vail, Colorado along Interstate 70. Notice how it would force a truck uphill so gravity could slow it down. It also appears to use a thick bed of gravel. It’s hard to tell.


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I managed to find an Australian example in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. Here signage along the Great Western Highway declares it a "Safety Ramp." Once again, gravity and gravel are combined to force a stop. I’d be a bit wary of the large stone outcrop on the right. The ramp seems a little narrow to me. Imagine barreling down a mountain in a tractor-trailer without brakes and having to angle for that slot. I’d categorize that as a good example of threading-the-needle.

United Kingdom

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12MC reader "Thomas" in Scotland challenged me to find more Scottish material for my articles. Thomas, I searched satellite imagery all over the Highlands for a solid half-hour trying to uncover a runaway truck ramp for you, and I failed. Send me a map link if you’ve seen one.

The United Kingdom was difficult and not because of the issue of Truck vs. Lorry. Search engines dealt with that distinction without a problem. I did finally find one as I was about to give up on the UK entirely. It’s in Wales along the A4119 as one approaches Tonypandy in the county borough of Rhondda Cynon Taf. In this instance the descent doesn’t last very long but there’s a vicious roundabout at the bottom. I’d hate to consider the devastation that would ensue should a lorry plow into the circle at full speed, and I guess the road engineers in Tonypandy felt the same way.

I know runaway truck ramps exist in other countries but I don’t know what they’re called in their native languages. It’s hard enough with all the different English variations. What might this piece of road engineering be in German or Russian or Portuguese? A search engine isn’t much use if one can’t plug-in the proper term and, as I mentioned, they are exceedingly difficult to spot from satellite imagery.

Please post your favorite runaway truck ramps along with map links or embedded Street View images in the comments. Readers posting examples found in non-English speaking countries get double bonus points.

Totally Unrelated

American Meridian Happy Hour

Good times were had by all at the American Meridian Happy Hour on Tuesday. Our county counter extraordinaire is on the left (he said it was OK to post this). I’m on the right. Can you tell it was a LONG day at work? I’ll let other attendees self identify if they wish. We swapped all sorts of travel adventures involving geo-oddities. Thanks guys! — I wish the rest of the 12MC audience lived close enough to attend. Where else can one find people who totally understand why I once took my family miles out of the way to see the 45X90 Spot?

On January 26, 2012 · 17 Comments

17 Responses to “Runaway Truck!”

  1. Randy Clark says:

    In Spanish:
    Rampa para camiones desbocados.

  2. Peter says:

    There’s the story, surely an urban legend, about the family on a long road trip who decided to stop for a picnic. Being from a flatter part of the country, they don’t realize that the spot they’ve chosen is a runaway truck ramp. You can figure out what happens next.

  3. Mr Burns says:

    Here are some from Interstate 70 in Colorado. The first four are west of the divide for westbound trucks.,-106.278224&spn=106.466911,158.027344&t=v&z=3&layer=c&panoid=J2qcxS7Q6bGRh5TOKWiyOw&cbll=39.622577,-106.278224&cbp=13,-327.3093161199049,,0,3.666929888837103,-106.245243&spn=106.466911,158.027344&t=v&z=3&layer=c&panoid=vxg29xyX4yc8PXwJp09gxQ&cbll=39.587364,-106.245243&cbp=13,-316.0697689841534,,0,4.640958140559391,-106.014834&spn=106.466911,158.027344&t=u&z=3&layer=c&panoid=5UcG6LpOq_iXD_pHBZfavg&cbll=39.652208,-106.014834&cbp=13,-78.52801571969304,,0,8.13600069085743,-105.969438&spn=106.466911,158.027344&t=u&z=3&layer=c&panoid=OqYyj6FuafKU2CE_6LP-OA&cbll=39.673689,-105.969438&cbp=13,-75.8200388506579,,0,9.568395178684199

    This one is east of the divide, almost at the edge of the Denver Metro area, eastbound. It is unusual in that it runs downhill, relying on the bed of gravel to stop trucks rather than gravity.,-105.23907&spn=106.466911,158.027344&t=u&z=3&layer=c&panoid=vk8nEx9LiHT3uGuyDZqgDw&cbll=39.69954,-105.23907&cbp=13,-211.411926396767,,0,5.62495324800706

    And finally, one of my favorite DOT-installed signs. It is just a short distance past that last truck ramp. While most signs are formal and standardized, this one is “in your face” factual, almost casual. Still, I think it conveys the serious and deadly consequences of complacency.,-105.234436&spn=106.466911,158.027344&t=u&z=3&layer=c&panoid=TAbo5r8DbomZHN0p83xK-Q&cbll=39.698243,-105.234436&cbp=13,-266.98883252445637,,0,-7.610371819514469

  4. David Walters says:

    In the UK the A2 into Dover has several, the last of which crosses a roundabout:

  5. Robin says:

    The Wikipedia page on runaway truck ramps ( link you to at least the German, French, Dutch and Malay(!) translations.

    The German page lists four examples of such a ramp in Germany and Austia including Links to the articles about the roads they are on, which in turn link have a map link (top left corner).

    One of them is a ramp near the Werratalbrücke (Werra valley bridge) of the A7 motorway:

  6. Mike Lowe says:

    I recall some ramps on US 6 near Loveland Pass in Colorado. I believe they were only on the Pacific side of the Continental Divide. Take Google Maps to the Eisenhower tunnel area and you’ll be nearby.

    I sort of recall some runaway ramps near Monarch Pass (again, CO) as well.

    Brake temps are a big deal in some spots. Both times I visited Pikes Peak, there were rangers (or similar) measuring the brake temps of each vehicle on the way down. My Miata’s brakes were at ambient. They only get hot on a race track. 🙂

  7. wangi says:

    Here’s a Scottish one for you… Terminology is “escape lane”. This one is on the out-of-place high quality road build to service the naval facility at Coulport (nuclear weapon storage):

  8. Snabelabe says:

    This is the only one I know of in Belgium, it’s on the E42 near Verviers.

  9. Pfly says:

    Thanks for posting those of I-70 near Denver, Mr Burns! I had forgotten about the “Truckers you aren’t down yet” one. It always made me laugh. I-70 west of Denver is like a giant ramp all by itself. 🙂

    I can’t think of any ramps in the Washington Cascades, offhand. It seems like there has to be some. Maybe they are not as obvious as the ones in Colorado…

  10. Jeremy says:

    There used to be a truck ramp in Kona, HI at the intersection of Palani Rd and Queen Kaahumanu Highway, before you hit town (or crossed a very busy road) with your unbrakeable truck at the bottom of the mountain. I think it’s no longer in use, blocked by a big rock wall since they built the Makalapua shopping center (off map to the left).,-155.993704&spn=0.006553,0.00567&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=85.651901,92.900391&hnear=Kailua-Kona,+Hawaii&t=h&z=18

    Sadly, this street view would be more helpful if it wasn’t taken at night –,-155.992776&spn=0.006532,0.00567&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=85.651901,92.900391&hnear=Kailua-Kona,+Hawaii&t=h&z=18&layer=c&cbll=19.647946,-155.992542&panoid=l0UDU-rO4li5j7q7UB7-xQ&cbp=12,250.85,,0,2.04

    It was a combination arrestor (gravel) and gravity ramp.

    Thanks for the research and writings.

  11. Steve says:

    Here’s a satellite view of my local runaway truck ramp. It’s not on Street view, but it’s pretty gnarly – one of the “cable arrester” versions and not something I’d want to go crashing through.

    But there’s a story… that intersection to the left there is fairly busy. A few years ago, an honest-to-goodness runaway dumptruck careened down the mountain and plowed through the intersection, killing several people and injuring many others. It was awful.

    I live on the mountain (which is just a hill, but whatever) and there are accidents at least once per week somewhere on the road over it. It’s nuts. Anyway, the state built that runaway ramp after the horrible crash… But the story isn’t over.

    See that building through the trees at the end of the ramp? That’s a restaurant/inn – and where i had my wedding rehearsal dinner to boot – but it closed last year. The owner cited the ramp aiming runaway trucks at his restaurant and the fear it instilled in potential diners as the reason for their closing. He’s suing the state.

    he’ll lose (I hope), but now you all know a story of a hastily built runaway truck ramp in litigation.

  12. Interesting thing about that Street View image you posted of the Colorado runaway truck ramp: that’s the original alignment of US highway 6. After I-70 was built, old US 6 was closed to traffic, and now most of the historic segment is used as a recreational trail between Vail and the summit of Vail Pass. But this uppermost segment was converted to a truck ramp. Yes, it is lined with a thick bed of gravel now – here is a photo from the upper end:
    I’ve been told truck ramps are designed assuming a 90-mph terminal velocity.

  13. TB says:

    This one is outside of Leslie, Ark., on U.S. 65:

    I’ve driven past this ramp all my life, but it wasn’t until I looked at that satellite image that I noticed the house just to the east of it. I bet they get a show once a year or so.

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