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DOT gets it, or tries: Truck parking is a problem

DOT gets it, or tries: Truck parking is a problem

"We recognize locating a safe and convenient place to park and rest as a problem, and we are taking actions to address this issue." --Scott Darling, FMCSA "After our family lost Jason, many drivers and organizations have worked tirelessly to correct this problem. We have educated the general public and gained support. As we finish this step, I look forward to the next." --Hope Rivenburg

The results of a national survey released Friday morning, Aug. 21 confirm it: Most states have problems year-round with inadequate truck parking. Along with the survey findings, the Dept. of Transportation announced a new coalition that'll be focused on this national problem and discussed initiatives on the way to help.

"If [the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration] is to succeed at its life-saving mission, we must do better on this issue," FMCSA Acting Administrator Scott Darling said at a media briefing. "We recognize locating a safe and convenient place to park and rest as a problem, and we are taking actions to address this issue."

FMCSA Acting Administrator Scott Darling discusses initiatives to help solve truck parking inadequacy at a briefing Friday morning, Aug. 21.

Darling noted FMCSA is in the second phase of a Smart Park initiative that's piloting parking assistance systems and communications to help drivers find available spots. The systems will draw from features already employed in places like airport parking lots that have sensors and signs indicating open spaces and apps that can guide cars to available parking in a range of U.S. cities.

"Our Smart Park initiative will leverage cutting-edge technologies to first determine the availability of safe truck parking places and secondly will provide real-time information to truck drivers rolling down our highways," Darling said. "We are looking to several platforms for disseminating safe truck parking information including a smartphone app, a website and signs on the road that continually update truckers on availability of parking."

"We want the system to safely and efficiently communicate with truckers and guide them to safe, available parking spaces," he added. In addition, Darling said FMCSA will provide grants to help states purchase equipment like cameras, sensors and other devices that would monitor truck parking spots and signal drivers if they're available or not.

According to Darling, FMCSA has a limited-scale parking assistance system up and running. "We have piloted a system in Tennessee and we're looking to deploy that system more widely, so stay tuned," he told listeners. 

Trucker widow addresses Jason's Law

At the briefing, Federal Highway Administrator Gregory Nadeau announced the new National Coalition on Truck Parking, which will focus on underlying issues and specific local problems across the country and how to address them. The coalition will include the Federal Highway Administration, FMCSA, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the American Trucking Associations, the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association, the National Association of Truck Stop Operators and the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.

Hope Rivenburg — the widow of truck driver Jason Rivenburg, who was murdered in 2009 when he was forced to park in a dubious location — speaks at a press briefing Friday morning, Aug. 21.

The survey was conducted as a result of Jason's Law, which calls for more safe, convenient parking for truck drivers and was enacted as part of the MAP-21 surface transportation funding legislation in 2012. The law is named for Jason Rivenburg, a truck driver who was shot and killed during a robbery attempt in early March 2009 after he was forced to park at an abandoned gas station in Fultonham, SC — the only spot he could find available.

"As most of you know, my husband Jason was murdered in South Carolina while on his break driving a truck," Jason's widow, Hope Rivenburg, said during the briefing. "At the time, we had a 23-month-old son named Joshua, and 13 days after Jason's death I gave birth to our twins."

"After our family lost Jason, many drivers and organizations have worked tirelessly to correct this problem," Rivenburg noted. "We have educated the general public and gained support. As we finish this step, I look forward to the next."

The survey results will surprise few in the trucking industry, where this is a long-acknowledged problem. The findings can be summed up thus: "Most states reported having truck parking shortages occurring at all times of the day on every day of the week," a DOT release states.

The East Coast — where Jason Rivenburg was murdered — shows up in the survey as a focus of truck parking insufficiency. The survey pulls together information from state departments of transportation and finds truck drivers and logistics personnel report the most problems finding parking in the Mid-Atlantic, Southeast and New England areas.

The top five highway corridors the survey cites as short on truck parking are I-95, I-40, I-80, I-10 and I-81. States report more problems with truck parking availability in public facilities than at private ones, but among private truck stop owners, "most facilities report being at full capacity primarily during night hours." Private truck stops report that they fill up mostly during mid-week, but some say they that happens during weekends as well.

Also not surprisingly, those times and capacity issues correlate with survey findings regarding "unofficial" or illegal truck parking in places like highway on- and off-ramps and shoulders. Nearly half of states report unofficial and/or illegal parking in such places, according to the survey findings.

State motor carrier safety officials say unofficial/illegal parking is found most often during night hours on weekdays, but again, some report that it's also occurring on weekends. And it's all year round: this kind of makeshift truck parking is being observed "consistently throughout the year, with only a slight decline in winter months," the survey finds.

Truck drivers make problem clear

Some of the most telling information came from truck drivers themselves. More than 75% of drivers and 66% of logistics personnel report problems finding safe parking for needed rest, and fully 90% of truck drivers say they have problems finding safe parking at night. The problems are more pronounced on weekdays.

Additional findings from the survey include:

  • Nighttime presents the most difficulty overall for truck drivers to find parking.
  • Truck parking shortages are most acute on major highway corridors and in urban areas.
  • Adverse weather conditions can have "a significant impact" on available parking capacity, availability and safety.
  • Regulations and restrictions related to hours of service rules "can be a challenge for drivers when a trip is delayed or changed but rest hours are necessary."
  • States lack resources for parking projects and enforcement, but also an understanding of key industries and supply chains to anticipate and plan for parking needs.
  • Planning and zoning in various municipalities is a challenge developing truck parking facilities.
  • Safety can be reduced due to the mix of trucks and passenger vehicles at parking facilities.

DOT has posted the full survey results online. A video of the report announcement is below:

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