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What Is a Runaway Truck Ramp?

There’s not much scarier than an out-of-control vehicle that weighs several tons. A semi or trailer barreling down the highway can easily cause a severe or even deadly accident. Runaway truck ramps, or escape ramps, save lives. So what is a runaway truck ramp? Let’s take a closer look and learn more about these vital traffic safety devices.

What Is a Runaway Truck Ramp?

Runaway truck ramps, also known as truck escape ramps, are traffic devices to assist vehicles experiencing brake failures. Escape ramps are common along highways and other roads in mountainous areas with long descents that can test a driver’s brakes. Drivers can steer their vehicle into a runaway truck ramp to gradually stop and prevent an accident.

How Truck Escape Ramps Stop Out-Of-Control Big Wheelers

How Do Runaway Truck Ramps Work?

Runaway truck ramps are incredibly efficient at stopping large trucks and buses. The lanes typically contain gravel or sand, which allow them to dissipate a vehicle’s kinetic energy in a controlled manner. The depth of these materials gradually increases the further a vehicle travels into the ramp.

Those that enter these runaway ramps typically do so as a last resort to avoid a serious situation. Drivers that use them often require assistance to get back on the road. Damage will likely occur to the truck’s underside due to the ramp, but it beats the alternative of potentially causing a deadly accident.

Runaway truck ramp sign on highway
Turn your road trip into a fun game by trying to spot all of the runaway truck ramp signs on the road.

How Deep Is the Gravel on the Ramp?

The gravel depth of a runaway truck ramp increases the further you travel into the ramp. It typically starts around 3 inches deep, but once you reach 100 to 200 feet in, it can get as deep as 48 inches.

This depth and the materials that fill the ramp can stop even the largest vehicles needing to use it. Some ramps also include an incline to provide even more assistance with stopping out-of-control cars.

Pro Tip: Make driving your RV safer and easier with these 10 Simple Ways to Make RV Driving Days Not Suck.

steep grade warning sign
Runaway truck ramps are critical to keeping trucks with brake failures and travelers safe.

How Do Trucks Become Runaway?

Trucks become runaway as a result of brake failures. Many drivers make mistakes when coming down mountain passes or long, gradual grades by relying too much on their brakes. The friction on the brakes can cause them to heat up and wear through the brake pads extremely quickly. Depending on the severity, you may completely lose the ability to slow your vehicle.

Drivers of any size vehicle can make this mistake. Stop to check your brakes before entering an extended downhill grade. Areas that have the potential for causing runaway vehicles will often have a spot for drivers to pull over to examine them.

If you have any doubts, check your braking system before heading on a trip. You don’t want to discover at the top that your brakes can’t do the job to get down the mountain.

Truck escape ramp on highway
Truck escape ramps contain gravel or sand to help slow down out-of-control vehicles.

What Happens to a Truck on an Escape Ramp?

Drivers only use escape ramps when they have no other choice. This is because the sudden halt in the gravel or other material is anything but soft and gentle. However, no matter how rough the stop, it likely beats the alternative of continuing down the road out of control.

As a vehicle enters an escape ramp, its wheels will quickly sink into the gravel or sand. In seconds, it will be up to its axles in the escape ramp and come to a stop, and a massive cloud of dust and debris will surround the area. When used correctly, the vehicle will sit safely in the middle of the escape ramp when the dust settles.

While the driver avoids a potentially deadly accident, it will cause a violent and sudden stop. Their vehicle will likely suffer extreme damage and require assistance to get out of the escape ramp. If you need to use an escape ramp, get ready for an insurance claim.

Do Truckers Get Fined for Using Runaway Truck Ramps?

There’s typically no fine for using a runaway truck ramp. However, you might end up with a rather hefty fee to get towed out. Burying a large vehicle in feet of gravel or sand isn’t going to make it easy to extract. It can cost thousands of dollars to rescue someone from a runaway truck ramp, plus the cost of any damages the vehicle might experience. 

Driving past a truck escape ramp
Truck escape ramps are there in case of emergency but are rarely used by big rigs.

How Often Are These Escape Ramps Used?

The escape ramps you see along the highway rarely get used. This is because most professional drivers use extreme caution and inspect their rigs.

According to 9News in Denver, the Colorado Department of Transportation has said an escape ramp along the treacherous I-70 was used less than 10 times over three years.

Drivers hope they never have to use a runaway truck ramp, but they’re glad one is available when they do.

Pro Tip: If long driving days don’t intimidate you, then why not try a cross-country road trip in your RV. This is How to RV Across America: The Ultimate American Dream.

Runaway Truck Ramp 3 sign off of highway
Truck escape ramps trap a vehicle to prevent it from sliding, so only use them in case of emergency.

Can Other Vehicles Use Runaway Truck Ramps?

Runaway truck ramps are for large, heavy vehicles. However, they can sufficiently stop any vehicle unable to brake. Whether you drive a passenger vehicle or a big rig, you can use a runaway truck ramp in an emergency.

No matter the type of vehicle, you’ll still have a large tow and repair bill in your future. These ramps cause a lot of damage as they trap the car to prevent it from sliding back down. Depending on your insurance, you can likely file a claim and minimize any out-of-pocket costs associated with the incident.

Pro Tip: Before you use a runaway truck ramp, make sure you know Can RVs Use Runaway Truck Ramps?

9 Safe RV Driving Tips for Beginning RVers (and Seasoned Ones too)

Be Aware Around Escape Ramps

If traveling in an area with significant elevation changes, you need to do all you can to maximize your safety. You should regularly inspect your brakes and ensure that you stay within the towing limits of your vehicle.

Driving safely around escape ramps also means watching out for other drivers. They may experience a brake failure and need you to get out of the way to avoid an accident. Safety while driving in mountainous areas is critical.

Have you ever had to use or seen someone use a runaway truck ramp? Tell us in the comments!

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About Tom Morton

Tom, a Pacific Northwest native, is our technical genius. Born in Washington and raised in Alaska before settling in Michigan. He's the man who keeps our operation running, both figuratively and literally.

With a background in Electrical Engineering, Tom specializes in RV solar systems and lithium batteries. He made history as the first documented individual to use a Tesla battery module as an RV battery. Tom has personally assisted countless RVers with system installations and has educated thousands more through his videos and articles.

Cinematography is another of Tom's passions, showcased in his work on the Go North series. You can see his camera skills on display in The RVers TV show on Discovery Channel and PBS where he also stars as a co-host.

Tom's mechanical expertise extends beyond RVs to boats, planes, and all things mechanical. He's renowned for taking on maintenance and repair projects single-handedly and is often spotted underneath RVs, making him the technical backbone of our endeavors.

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