WASHINGTON – U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Pete Buttigieg acknowledged on Wednesday during a hearing of the Environment and Public Works Senate Committee that a lack of safe truck parking is a serious issue that must be addressed.
“If you talk with any truck driver, it’s not only an issue of convenience, it’s an issue of safety,” Buttigieg said. “And, I might add, with the idling that goes on, it’s even an issue of emissions.”
At that same hearing, Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., said she saw firsthand how bad the truck parking issue is during a recent trip along Interstate 80 after a winter storm in her home state.
Trucks “were idling for miles during the hours that it took to reopen Interstate 80,” she said.
Buttigieg went on to say that he was “very concerned” about the issue and thanked Lummis for bringing it to the forefront.
Buttigieg mentioned several programs that states could use to secure funding for truck parking.
Among them: The Surface Transportation Block Grant Program; the National Highway Freight Program; the Highway Safety Improvement Program; the National Highway Performance Program; and the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program.
Hope Rivenburg — whose husband, Jason, a truck driver, was robbed, then murdered while parked in what turned out to be an unsafe location — has worked to highlight commercial truck parking needs and to enact federal legislation that would improve parking conditions.
The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century legislation, dubbed “Jason’s Law” after Jason Rivenburg, was established to provide a “national priority on addressing the shortage of long-term parking for commercial motor vehicles on the National Highway System (NHS) to improve the safety of motorized and non-motorized users and for commercial motor vehicle operators.
Specifically, Jason’s Law requires DOT to conduct a survey and comparative assessment in consultation with relevant State motor carrier representatives to:
- Evaluate the capability of each state to provide adequate parking and rest facilities for commercial motor vehicles engaged in interstate transportation;
- Assess the volume of commercial motor vehicle traffic in each state; and
- Develop a system of metrics to measure the adequacy of commercial motor vehicle parking facilities in each state.
The 2019 Jason’s Law Report found that 98% of truck drivers regularly experience problems finding safe parking. That’s a 23% increase from the 2015 report.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) and American Trucking Associations (ATA) point out that there are about 3.5 million truck drivers and only 313,000 truck parking spaces nationally.
Both groups recently sent a letter to Buttigieg urging Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act funds be prioritized to boost the nation’s truck parking capacity.
The groups say the nationwide shortage of available parking has plagued America’s truck drivers for decades, with a wide range of consequences for highway safety, driver health and well-being, supply-chain efficiency and the environment.
“The lack of available truck parking has dire safety implications for truck drivers as well as the motoring public,” the joint letter states. “Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) hours-of-service (HOS) regulations require drivers to take a 30-minute break when they have driven for a period of eight cumulative hours without at least a 30-minute interruption, and a 10-hour break after 14 hours of driving.”
The letter continues: “When drivers are unable to find safe, authorized parking, they are stuck in a no-win situation, forced to either park in unsafe or illegal locations, or violate federal HOS regulations by continuing to search for safer, legal alternatives.”
ATA President and CEO Chris Spear said that “Washington needs to listen to our nation’s truck drivers and respect their most serious needs. They are the heartbeat of our economy and directly support the frontlines in the fight against COVID — a battle that will only be won with the help of the trucking industry.”
Spear said that “year after year, surveys show the severe lack of truck parking ranks amongst drivers’ top concerns. More than 98% percent of drivers report problems finding safe parking, burning more than 56 minutes of available drive-time every day to find it. That wasted time amounts to a $5,500 loss in annual compensation — or a 12% pay cut.”
In addition to adding stress to an already strained supply chain, this also presents a safety hazard for all drivers, both commercial and private, he said.
“Given the historic levels of funding provided by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, we ask that DOT prioritize this urgent need for America’s truckers,” Spear said.
In their joint letter, OOIDA and ATA wrote that 70% of drivers have been forced to violate federal HOS rules because of this common scenario.
As a last resort, drivers reluctantly park in unsafe locations — such as highway shoulders, interstate entry and exit ramps and abandoned properties — creating heightened safety risks for all motorists, according to the letter.
“Importantly, 84% of drivers feel unsafe when parked in unauthorized areas,” the letter states.
“This dilemma puts law enforcement in a difficult position; enforcement officials can either force truck drivers to relocate, placing them in violation of HOS rules and taking a risk that the drivers are not too fatigued to drive, or they can allow the drivers to remain parked illegally. The bottom line is that safety is compromised when truck parking is not readily available.”
On the road, truck drivers like Sammy Jenkins of Wyoming say they are tired of circling truck stop lots that are filled to the brim with hundreds of road-weary truckers.
“There just needs to be something done about this now,” Jenkins said. “The government can give out all this money for other things, why can’t they just build some parking lots for us?”
The OOIDA and ATA letter to Buttigieg concludes with one final plea.
“If the DOT prioritizes the expansion of truck parking capacity and makes significant progress toward that effort, drivers will be safer and healthier, fleets will be more productive, the trucking workforce will be more resilient, and trucks will reduce their fuel needs and emit fewer emissions into the environment.” the letter states.
“All of these benefits would be passed on to the average American in the form of lower prices, greater availability of goods and a cleaner planet. We stand ready to assist in any way we can.”
Born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and raised in East Texas, John Worthen returned to his home state to attend college in 1998 and decided to make his life in The Natural State. Worthen is a 20-year veteran of the journalism industry and has covered just about every topic there is. He has a passion for writing and telling stories. He has worked as a beat reporter and bureau chief for a statewide newspaper and as managing editor of a regional newspaper in Arkansas. Additionally, Worthen has been a prolific freelance journalist for two decades, and has been published in several travel magazines and on travel websites.