Why runaway truck ramps are useful

This rather jerky video (obviously recorded at only one or two frames per second) shows a runaway truck on a California mountain road in April this year.  The truck uses a runaway ramp to stop itself, almost turning over in the process.  It’s a very graphic illustration of why they build them – the thought of that much mass running amok at high speed through lighter vehicles further down the road is chilling.  Watch in full-screen mode for best results.



  1. I always thought that between jake brakes and modern materials for braking systems the runaway truck was pretty much a thing of the past. I see that it isn't, which kind of puzzles me a little. How does the truck driver get himself into this mess in the first place?

    1. Mechanisms are always subject to failure. Modern materials don't change that.
      Such failure normally happens under large amounts of stress. You won't often see a truck lose its brakes while on an interstate in Kansas. But it happens with some regularity on busy roadways through the mountains.

  2. Looks like I15 between LA and Vegas. There are several white knuckle stretches on that route. Driving Southbound through Cajon Pass will put the fear into you.


  3. Just past Bakersfield. Very long upward climb. Lots of cars and trucks in the summer months end up on the side of the road because of overheating.

  4. Some of the US routes through the Alleghany mountains (western Appalachians) in Pennsylvania still have runaway truck ramps. US 30 for a certainty. I think US 22 had some but they may have disappeared during the decades-long process of realignment and widening.

  5. Until they can afford to run the same brakes as jetliners and top racing vehicles, they can still overheat them to failure mode. WAY too expensive, though.

    That truck appeared to be lightly loaded, as it stopped rather quickly in the gravel trap. A full load would have plowed farther up the ramp.

    Driver inexperience or stupidity/arrogance can still bite you, even today.

    Some years back, I was running a large motorhome coast to coast. On the westbound I-80 downhill from the Nevada line, I could smell something overheated/burning ahead of me. I got on the CB and tried to pass a warning/advisory to the truck ahead of me. All I got back from him and a couple other truckers was a steaming pile of abuse about "white line runners" and that I should stay off the radio. So, I turned it off. Shortly afterward, I caught up to him, and could see a light trail of smoke behind his loaded 18 wheeler flatbed, and flames underneath. I passed him, and a bit further along I passed a patrol unit sitting on the side. I figured I'd let the CHP deal with him, as he and his fellow drivers obviously didn't want any input from a "non-professional".

  6. I once pulled over a semi as I headed to work southbound on I5 in Del Mar. He had obviously hit something very hard with the preventer over his right wheel and it was in contact with that tire. He was amenable to my signal to pull off just as we got to the race track. He didn't speak my language but I was wearing a uniform and was clearly not an absolutel idiot. I gestured him out of the cab and around to the back of his truck where he at once saw that most of his back right tire was gone. I nodded at him, went back to my car and continued on to Imperial Beach.

    I didn't have a radio. I just pulled in front of him, put on my flashers and used my left arm to suggest that we both pull over. As I think about it, I'm kind of surprised he did.

  7. I've been a truck driver for over 27 years. What usually happens is the driver doesn't pay close enough attention to his speed on the down side. Before anti-lock brakes, the rule was to come down a mountain 5-10mph slower than you went up. Also, to use light, steady pressure on the brakes and be in the proper gear. I ran for about 5 years without a jake, so this was how I always came down. Now, with anti-locks, they tell you to stab brake. Of course, sometimes brakes fade or fail. The guy was fortunate.

  8. East side of Homestake pass southeast of Butte, Montana is a long, fairly steep grade with a lot of curves. And several escape ramps for trucks. It been a long while since I've driven it, so I don't remember all of the details, but it could get scary during winter.

  9. If you've ever driven from Nashville to Chattanooga on I-24, you've crossed Monteagle Mountain, a place notorious for truck accidents. A number of years ago, TDOT reconstructed the stretch in an effort to make it safer. When it was finished, the nonparticipants who wanted glory for having done little to nothing, were there opening it up/dedicating it. The Governor's stand was set up near a runaway truck ramp and a truck had to use it about midway through his speech.

    When that made channel 4 news that evening, the anchors had a bit of a laugh in their voice.

  10. It doesn't matter what high tech materials the brakes are made from and how trick the design of them are if the driver and company doesn't MAINTAIN them or doesn't know how to drive a rig on steep inclines then you will have this happen as well. You would be appalled at the trash we allow across our southern border and there are some states who have no state inspections (Alabama used to be one, may still be) or just have inspections that are a joke (not Louisiana, NO, NEVER Louisiana!).

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