The ability for truck drivers to find safe and legal parking spots has long been a problem—a problem exasperated by required federal hours-of-service (HOS) breaks and increased demand for freight. And it’s a problem that’s likely to get worse.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) recently reported that freight-ton miles (the movement of one ton of freight for one mile) could increase nearly 50 percent by 2045, according to Transport Topics. And trucks are currently the single most used mode to move freight, moving 64 percent of the tonnage in 2015. As more products need hauled, more trucks will be on the road that need safe and legal parking. Currently, according to a study by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), there are more than 3 million truckers in the U.S. but only 300,000 legal parking spaces—36,000 at public rest areas and the rest at private truck stops.
The lack of parking is a chief concern for drivers.
In the American Transportation Research Institute’s (ATRI) 2016 Critical Issues in the Trucking Industry study, which surveys both drivers and motor carriers, drivers rated truck parking as the third most significant issue behind the electronic logging device mandate and hours-of-service rules.
As the issue gets worse, more studies are conducted to help understand the complex issue and propose solutions.
In August 2015, the DOT released the results a nationwide truck parking study as mandated by the federal government. The FHWA, the DOT agency that conducted the study, found that most states reported a truck parking shortage; those that did not report a problem were largely rural. According to Land Line Magazine, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, Maryland, South Carolina, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, California, Washington and Oregon reported the most severe parking shortages. The top five corridors reported by drivers to be short on parking were I-95, I-40, I-80, I-10 and I-81.
More than 75 percent of truck drivers in the FHWA survey said 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.
ATRI conducted a study from June 2016 to September 2016 to determine the productivity impact for truck drivers trying to find parking for required hours-of-service breaks and for other reasons. Since electronic logging devices and other technology resources do not capture the time spent searching for parking, ATRI asked drivers to keep diaries. For two weeks, 600 drivers participated, and ATRI found that truckers lost an average of 56 minutes per day searching for parking.
The roughly hour-per-day average accounts for all parking attempts, including those for truckers’ required 10-hour break and others throughout the day. “With average driver pay at $42,500 annually, the lack of available parking is effectively reducing the average driver’s wages by 10 percent annually,” ATRI noted in its report.
According to ATRI’s report, 63.4 percent of parking attempts that took 15 or more minutes to find a space occurred between 4 p.m. and midnight. More than 72 percent of the truckers that kept parking diaries were mostly company drivers. Two percent were independents with their own authority, while 25.7 percent were owner-operators leased to carriers. More than half, 56.1 percent, pull van or reefer truckload, while 20.9 percent pull flatbed. Fifty percent of the drivers who kept journals work for carriers with 1,000 or more power units.
Congestion along America’s highways adds complexity to the problem. Increased traffic by trucks and the motoring public means that drivers are spending more and more time operating under constrained conditions, particularly during peak commuter hours. “Congested conditions reduce travel speeds and increase travel times throughout the highway network, yet the physical limitations of drivers (i.e., their need for rest facilities and supporting amenities) and HOS regulations that govern their work environment are time-based, not distance-based. Increasing congestion tends to generate an increase in parking demand at rest areas and off-highway service areas,” according to the FHWA.
A lack of safe and legal parking also puts drivers at risk when they are forced to park in unlit, remote, insecure areas. Between 2010 and 2015, 46 professional drivers were homicide victims while working, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Theft is another safety threat. 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 lots and truck trailer drop lots.
Additionally, if drivers can’t find parking, they may be forced to continue driving while tired, increasing the risk of being involved in or causing an accident. Or, drivers unable to find parking spots may become traffic hazards by parking on road shoulders or exit ramps, risking being hit by other drivers. Drivers also face the challenge of maneuvering in and out of mix-speeds traffic to access or leave the shoulders or ramps. It poses a threat to both truck drivers and other motorists.
While it is illegal in most states to park on the shoulder of limited-access highways, law enforcement are often reluctant to ticket truck drivers, knowing that they are operating under federal hours-of-service laws that require them to park and rest. It presents a clear dilemma: “A driver sleeping in a truck parked on the side of a highway may be more of a danger to other motorists if he or she is awakened and ordered to vacate the premises. Police officers presented with this scenario often find themselves in the uncomfortable position of weighing the competing hazards of an illegally parked truck and a fatigued driver,” according to the FHWA.
Technology to the Rescue
As truck parking continues to be a problem, many companies have attempted to create technological solutions and services to help drivers find available parking sports. Many truck stop chains have mobile driver apps that feature real-time parking information based on installed parking sensors. According to ATRI, 55 percent of drivers in its study use websites and smart phone applications to find parking along their routes.
Truck stops also offer the ability to making parking reservations. Most truck stops charge for reservations, but many carriers cover the cost for drivers. According to Commercial Carrier Journal, TA-Petro charges an average of $12 to $13 per reservation.
Funding for additional public rest areas is always a matter of debate in Congress when it comes to federal highway bills. The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act passed in 2015 allocates $305 billion over five years for highway and public transit projects. Truck parking facilities and truck parking information systems development are eligible activities to receive funding, but many states opt to use money to help improve debilitated infrastructure rather than add new facilities.
A significant factor underlying the truck parking issue is that of the competing interests between public rest area facilities operated by highway authorities along highways and privately owned retail sites like truck stops near highway interchanges. “Striking a balance between the needs of the trucking industry at public facilities and the interests of private retailers in maintaining viable travel centers has long been a challenge to both public agencies and private industry groups,” according to the FHWA. Consequently, building private truck stops or public rest areas is no simple task.
The National Coalition on Truck Parking, created by the FHWA, includes several state and federal agencies, trucking associations and safety groups. The coalition began meeting in late 2016 to find solutions to the truck parking shortage. Among the chief ideas going forward are various tax proposals and incentives; engaging metropolitan planning organizations; working with shippers and receivers to allow parking on premises; advancing technology that allows drivers to find available parking; and modernizing rest area designs that have inadequate layouts for truck parking spaces, according to Land Line Magazine.
Most of Ruan’s dedicated fleet drivers run the same route every day; therefore, they gain knowledge of where to park and when. And, a large majority is home daily, so they do not face the challenge of finding overnight parking.
In order to avoid hours-of-service violations, drivers are advised to take their 30-minute break shortly after the sixth on-duty hour. By law, drivers are not allowed to drive for more than eight hours without taking a 30-minute break. Consequently, by taking the break well before the eight-hour mark, drivers are not in a rush to find available parking.
Ruan’s Megasafe7 Rule 1: Prepare to Drive emphasizes that drivers have a trip plan. They are given the freedom to determine when and where to take their 30-minute break. By having a plan before they even start their day, drivers are less likely to receive violations or be pressed for time while looking for available parking.