A crucial shortage of parking for big trucks in the U.S. threatens the safety of truck drivers.
From 2010 through 2014, 40 big-rig drivers were slain while working, according to the Bureau of Labor statistics. The agency has not yet issued 2015 data. Trucking groups say a lack of safe parking puts drivers at risk.
Homicides are just part of the problem. Truck cargo thefts occur at the rate of at least twice daily, according to FreightWatch International, a logistics security services firm. Of those thefts, 86 percent happen in unsecured sites such as public parking and truck trailer drop lots.
There are more than 3 million truckers on U.S. roads but parking for approximately 300,000 trucks, according to the Federal Highway Administration, or FHWA. Many states are reporting acute parking needs, primarily along major transit corridors and in dense metropolitan areas.
“There is only so much water you can put in a glass, and we need more capacity,” said Darrin Roth, vice president of highway policy for the American Trucking Associations.
This leaves truckers like Tim Philmon, a 34-year trucking veteran, searching for scare parking spaces on a nightly basis. Although he has never been robbed of any personal belongings, he has had a load stolen off of his truck.
“Normally, I try to stay away from bad locations to park and rest, but sometimes it’s unavoidable,” Philmon said. “Also, I try to park in well-lit lots. Never do I bed down in rest areas, on ramps or weigh stations.”
More than 75 percent of truck drivers told an FHWA survey that they “regularly” experienced “problems with finding safe parking locations when rest was needed.” And 90 percent reported struggling to find safe parking at night.
At times, the dearth of spaces pushes tired truck drivers to continue driving, the FHWA said. A lack of spaces also creates traffic hazards when drivers choose to park at unsafe locations, such as on the shoulders of roads, on exit ramps or at vacant lots when they can’t locate legal parking spots, the government agency said.
In May, a trucker fell asleep at the wheel and overturned his rig, spilling 50,000 pounds of potatoes on Interstate 77 in North Carolina. The driver said he couldn’t find a legal place to park and didn’t want to be fined more than $200 by the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, which ramped up enforcement efforts for truckers parking roadside along interstate highways in 2015.
The shortage is compounded by municipalities passing laws prohibiting truck parking and even banning truck stops from building in their communities. They cite traffic and environmental concerns for the regulations.
Council members in Mesquite, Nev., voted to block Pilot Flying J from buying a building and 21 acres for a truck stop and parking in December 2012. The truck stop company has made a second request this year, and a decision is pending.
Truckers are running up against cities such as North Bend, Wash., which last year banned new truck parking spots from being built in the community. That ordinance also prevented the only truck stop in town from expanding to accommodate the influx of truck traffic.
The TravelCenters of America truck stop in North Bend has spaces for about 140 trucks. A manager there said his lot is full every night. Unlucky drivers who arrive there after dark are often forced to drive another 70 miles to the nearest truck stop in Ellensburg, Wash., or take their chances and park on the shoulder or off a ramp.
Harlingen, Texas, last month enacted an ordinance that prohibits commercial vehicles from parking on streets for longer than 24 hours in a 14-day period, citing road maintenance and safety hazards. This is forcing some truckers without alternative parking options to park on city streets anyway, despite the fear of a fine.
Drivers in Faribault, Minn., are also struggling to park their rigs inside city limits after residents complained about trucks being parked along city streets. In July, a committee there voted to install “No Truck Parking” on some city streets there.
A canvas of major trucking industry trade groups and federal highway and traffic agencies by Trucks.com found that there are not statistics on how many municipalities prohibit big-rig parking.
But the federal government became interested in the truck parking shortage after the March 2009 murder of 35-year-old truck driver Jason Rivenburg. That homicide prompted Congress to pass legislation in July 2012 known as Jason’s Law ordering the FHWA to research the truck parking problem.
After arriving early with a load of milk at a Food Lion distribution center, Rivenburg was turned away. Forced to find a spot for the night, he parked at an abandoned gas station in St. Matthews, S.C., and was fatally shot and robbed of $7. Willie Pelzer, his killer, was sentenced to life in prison. Rivenburg was survived by his wife, Hope, and a 2-year-old son, and she delivered twins less than two weeks after his death.
Jason’s Law was intended to provide federal money to help construct, improve or reopen commercial parking facilities along the National Highway System.
But so far, of $231 million in parking project requests submitted to the FHWA, only $34 million has been allocated. Most of that — $20 million — was awarded to pay for so-called intelligent transportation systems technology that outfits parking areas to alert drivers when parking spaces are available through in-cab messaging and other notification systems.
Jason’s Law also directed the FHWA to survey the ability of states to provide truck parking. It ordered an assessment of truck volumes in each state and worked to develop a measurement system to help states evaluate truck parking.
The legislation sparked the establishment by the FHWA of the National Coalition on Truck Parking.
“Obviously, truck parking is mainly about long-haul trucking because it’s spanning multiple states, so we are bringing several states together at these regional meetings to look at truck parking needs,” said Caitlin Rayman, director of the FHWA’s Office of Freight Management and Operations.
Major trucking organizations, including the American Trucking Associations and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association have joined the coalition.
But the truck parking shortage remains a recalcitrant issue for the freight industry.
Solving the problem may require cities to change zoning laws to allow for more truck parking, said Roth of the American Trucking Associations.
“In some cases it may mean giving truck stops financial incentives to build more truck parking to meet the demand,” Roth said. “And I think it’s up to the shippers to take on some responsibility, because if they have secure lots, they should allow truckers to park for the night.”