A recent pilot study conducted by Oregon State University discerned that there is a “high economic cost” of having too few safe places for commercial truck drivers to park and rest – costs resulting from a greater incidence of “crash harm.”
Over a seven-year period on one 290-mile stretch of highway alone, at-fault truck crashes resulted in approximately $75 million worth of “crash harm,” according to research conducted by the OSU College of Engineering for the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT).
“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,” according to the study’s lead author, Salvador Hernandez, a transportation safety and logistics researcher at Oregon State.
Hernandez and graduate research assistant Jason Anderson 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.
Highway 97 was chosen, Hernandez noted, because the idea for the study originated from ODOT’s office in Bend, which is near the highway’s Oregon midpoint.
For “property-carrying drivers,” as opposed to bus operators, federal rules require drivers to get off the road after 11 hours and to park and rest for at least 10 hours before driving again.
“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.”
He added that an “impetus” for this research is the 2012 passage of “Jason’s Law,” which prioritized federal funding to address a national shortage of truck parking.
Jason’s Law is named for truck driver Jason Rivenburg, who was robbed and fatally shot in South Carolina in 2009 after pulling off to rest at an abandoned gas station.
The researchers also looked at what other states were doing in response to the truck parking issue. They 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” as well as 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 stressed. “In Oregon, if we do nothing to address the problem and freight-related traffic continues to grow, we’ll face greater truck parking shortages. A possible solution is finding ways to promote public-private partnerships, the state working together with industry.”
A solution is not, he added, simply waiting for the day autonomous vehicles take over the hauling of freight as some predict.
“There are many issues yet to be worked out with autonomous commercial motor vehicles,” Hernandez said, “and even if autonomous commercial motor vehicles become commonplace, we’re still going to need truck drivers in some capacity. For now and in the foreseeable future, we need truck drivers and safe and adequate places for the drivers to park and rest.”