The first time I drove interstate highways at night after months at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, I was astounded by the number of trucks parked along entrance and exit ramps. Not just the occasional one or two, but rows of trucks lining entire ramps and rest areas overflowing out onto the highway shoulder.
Last year, the American Trucking Associations and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association sent a letter to Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg urging Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act funds be prioritized to boost the nation’s truck parking capacity.
The letter cited the 2019 Jason’s Law Report from the DOT, which found that 98% of drivers regularly experience problems finding safe parking — a sharp uptick from the 75% figure reported just four years earlier.
Of course, this is not a new issue. More than 20 years ago, Doug Condra, then HDT editorial director, penned a column titled “Truck Parking: Perception vs. Reality.” He criticized truckstop-association NATSO for its contention that no “systemic” truck parking shortage existed. A year later, a Federal Highway Administration study concluded that while there was a parking shortage in 12 states, overall truck parking was “more than adequate” nationwide.
In 2009, a name and a face became part of the discussion when truck driver Jason Rivenburg was shot and killed where he had parked at an abandoned gas station 12 miles away from his destination.
And, of course, the advent of new truck driver hours of service regulations and mandatory electronic logging devices only complicated the issue.
Even though it appears that we are seeing more agreement these days that there is a problem, solutions aren’t easy, and no one single answer will do the trick.
Over the years, various groups and agencies, including the National Transportation Safety Board, have called on the government to end the ban on private development of rest areas as a solution to the truck parking shortage. NATSO has pushed back on this idea hard.
There are some things motor carriers can try to help their drivers, such as paying for premium parking at truck stops, providing more parking at their own terminals, working with shippers and receivers to arrange parking for drivers delivering the next day, or using technology to help drivers find and reserve truck parking spaces.
I’ve been researching a feature for our March issue on how technology is changing logistics, and I’ve got to think that technology should be part of the truck-parking solution. If companies can use machine learning and artificial intelligence to crunch huge amounts of data allowing them to do everything from optimizing routes to setting and accepting freight rates, why can’t we do the same with truck parking?
An ATRI report found that about 57% of drivers were already using various truck parking apps, rising to nearly 67% among those under 45 years old. That was a 2019 survey, and I bet the numbers would be higher today.
There looks to be a glimmer of hope for help from the federal government. The pandemic made supply chains a household word and brought new attention to the truck drivers who are a crucial key.
In the executive branch, truck parking was one of many driver-related issues addressed in the Biden Administration’s Trucking Action Plan announced last spring. Buttigieg and new FMCSA Administrator Robin Hutcheson have said truck parking is a priority.
And in the legislative branch, the new Congressional session has already seen a bill introduced in the House of Representatives, the Safer Highways and Increased Performance for Interstate Trucking (SHIP IT) Act, which among other things would expand access to truck parking and rest facilities for commercial drivers. Given the Senate had introduced a bipartisan truck-parking bill in the previous session, it’s reasonable to expect action there, as well.
It’s time — past time — to make sure truck drivers have safe places to park and rest.
This editorial commentary appears in the January/February 2023 issue of Heavy Duty Trucking.