A pilot study by Oregon State University illustrates the high economic cost of having too few safe places for commercial truck drivers to park and rest — but an indirect solution may be on the horizon.
Over a seven-year period on one 290-mile stretch of highway alone, at-fault truck crashes resulted in approximately $75 million in economic costs of “crash harm,” according to research conducted by the OSU College of Engineering for the Oregon Department of Transportation.
Crash harm is defined as a “measure of the combined human and material losses from traffic crashes based on economic valuation.”
“Current crash data collection forms don’t have an explicit section for truck-parking-related crashes, but we can operate under the assumption that specific types of at-fault truck crashes, such as those due to fatigue, may be the result of inadequate parking,” said the study’s lead author, Salvador Hernandez, a transportation safety and logistics researcher at OSU.
Hernandez and his team analyzed Oregon’s portion of U.S. Highway 97, which runs the entire north-south distance of the state along the eastern slope of the Cascade Range.
“Around the country, commercial drivers are often unable to find safe and adequate parking to meet hours-of-service regulations,” Hernandez said. “This holds true in Oregon, where rest areas and truck stops in high-use corridors have a demand for truck parking that exceeds capacity. That means an inherent safety concern for all highway users, primarily due to trucks parking in undesignated areas or drivers exceeding the rules to find a place to park.”
Researchers looked at what other states were doing in response to the parking issue, surveyed more than 200 truck drivers, assessed current and future parking demand on Highway 97, and used historical crash data to identify trends and hot spots and to estimate crash harm.
“Crash trends in terms of time of day, day of the week, and month of the year follow the time periods drivers stated having trouble finding places to park,” Hernandez said. “In Oregon, if we do nothing to address the problem and freight-related traffic continues to grow, we’ll face greater truck parking shortages.”
The study didn’t even consider the federal electronic logging device mandate that kicks in for most truckers in mid-December. While some fear it will make the parking shortage worse, others believe forcing better adherence to driver logs will help prevent fatigue-related crashes — but there’s another aspect to the argument.
Back when I talked with truckers each day as the host of a radio show, when mandated use of electronic logs was nothing more than a vague prospect, several drivers noted that while truck parking in much of the country isn’t ample enough, that was not the main reason drivers had a tough time finding spaces to rest.
Rather, they said it was due to a lack of planning, by drivers or their fleets, as to where they would rest, many times forcing them to park in the types of undesignated areas this study pointed to. Such a sentiment was echoed by drivers who drove for fleets that were early adopters of electronic logs.
Fast forward to today, and it’s easy to see these truckers had a point. Fleets that have successfully adopted ELDs say they force both fleets and drivers to do better planning — and that will include thinking well ahead of time about where to rest.
While ELDs won’t lead to the creation of more trucking parking spaces in the short term, as the study called for, getting more truckers and fleets thinking about where to rest may well result in fewer tired truckers, reduced crashes and lower “crash harm.” And fewer crashes could mean lower costs for both the economy and for fleets.
Evan Lockridge covers business and economic news for HDT, both in this monthly column and on Truckinginfo.com. A freelance writer, he has been covering the trucking industry in print, online, and on the air since 1991.