It took a death to spark national legislation
On March 4, 2009, truck driver Jason Rivenburg stopped his rig in a small South Carolina town to sleep for the night. He parked in the truck parking lot of an abandoned gas station near a local county highway before delivering a truckload of milk to a nearby Food Lion supermarket the next morning.
However, Rivenburg was robbed of the $7 on his dashboard and shot twice in the head, killing him.
The senseless crime rocked the trucking industry and revived a long-dormant national policy debate concerning the safety of truckers on the road. Overnight truck parking is huge problem due to lack of available parking spaces. Many long-haul truckers end up pulling over on the side of a road or highway ramp to sleep due to strict rules that limit hours of service, or paid hours spent on the road each day.
Because safe truck parking spaces are increasingly scarce and drivers can’t spend much time looking for parking without cutting into their already thin profit margins, they end up risking their safety by parking where they can.
National truck parking is a growing problem
How did the simple act of truck parking become so dangerous for drivers? The problem starts with a lack of both public and private spaces. According to the Federal Highway Administration, there are only about 313,000 total spaces available for the nearly 2 million heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers in the U.S. The vast majority of those spaces are privately owned, and capacity for those spaces has only increased 11 percent between 2014 and 2019. Growth has been even slower for the 40,000 public parking spaces in the U.S.; capacity has only increased 6 percent during that same time period.
Making matters worse, several states have elected to close some of their rest areas to save money, ceding that traffic to state-owned service plazas that serve as one-stop shops for drivers. However, that solution does little to increase the number of actual truck parking spaces drivers need to feel safe on the road – and the problem has only worsened over the years.
This has put the squeeze on many truckers: A recent survey from the Professional Driver Association (PDA) revealed that many drivers take at least a half-hour searching for safe truck parking – a search that could end up costing drivers thousands of dollars in lost wages over time.
ELD mandates add to truck parking challenge
This desperate – and at times, futile – search for safe parking forces some drivers to make unsafe choices. Many drivers have taken to parking on dark and unsecured residential streets, highway off-ramps and other places on the road to park in accordance with ELD mandates.
This has resulted in multiple crashes and deaths on the road. In fact, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, 5.3 percent of fatal vehicle crashes involved either an idling or working large truck. In addition, unsafe truck parking choices may contribute to the recent epidemic of cargo theft, which costs companies up to $30 billion each year.
Although Congress passed Jason’s Law to examine the truck parking shortage in light of Rivenburg’s death, the resulting Department of Transportation data revealed that the shortage had actually worsened since then.
Before 2014, drivers had reported shortages throughout the I-95 North and Mid-Atlantic corridors, the Chicago area, and the state of California. Afterwards, the shortages had spread to the entire I-95 corridor, as well as the west coast and states surrounding the Chicago area, which include Ohio and Wisconsin.
Solving the truck parking issue
How can truck drivers park safely when spaces have become so scarce? The federal government has proposed a potential solution in the Truck Parking Safety Improvement Act. The bill would authorize $755 million in existing Department of Transportation funding for states to build more commercial parking spaces and partner with private rest areas.
Last month, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee unanimously voted to advance the bill to the full House of Representatives for final approval. Some states have also addressed the problem by reopening previously shuttered public rest areas. Connecticut governor Ned Lamont, for example, re-opened the state’s seven public highway rest stops for 24/7 service three years ago after previous staffing reductions.
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