In the United States, the struggle to find parking can be frustrating for many drivers but for those behind the wheel of sizable commercial trucks, making impromptu decisions on where to park can lead to severe injuries or even deadly outcomes.
The dire lack of parking situation forces truck drivers, diligently performing their duties, to struggle to locate safe resting spots, thereby forcing them to violate mandatory Hours of Service laws created to ensure rested truckers. The constant search for parking for some truckers has led to sleep deprivation which potentially leads to fatal accidents.
Recent years have seen a surge in high-stake truck accidents linked to sleep deprivation, highlighting the dangers posed by fatigued drivers.
Commercial vehicle crashes claimed the lives of nearly 5,000 people in 2018, with reports identifying "tired-driving" as a primary cause. Among the 4,951 fatalities resulting from truck-related accidents that year, 71% were drivers of passenger vehicles, 18% were truck drivers, and 11% were motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians, the U.S. Department of Transportation revealed.
Fatalities in Crashes Involving Large Trucks
A trucker who is low on their Hours of Service (HOS) Clock, who is exhausted from a long shift needs easy access to park their rig. This, however, is not always the case. How is safety affected when a sleepy driver is wandering around searching for parking? What are their options?
In situations where a tired trucker is left without proper parking options, the consequences can be dire. Fatigue impairs a driver's judgment, reaction time, and overall alertness, greatly increasing the risk of accidents on the road.
The frustration and stress of struggling to find a safe place to park can exacerbate these issues, putting not only the driver's well-being at risk but also the safety of other road users.
To address these concerns, it becomes crucial for the trucking industry and relevant authorities to work together to ensure that adequate rest areas and parking facilities are readily available, allowing exhausted truckers to recharge safely and contribute to safer roads for everyone.
Additionally, this pervasive issue concerning the availability of parking for commercial trucks also compels drivers to illegally park somewhere other than a designated truck stop, causing deadly crashes.
Just in September, a 28-year-old Newark man died after crashing into a tractor-trailer that Delaware State Police reported was illegally parked along Route 40 near New Castle late September.
Not only that, a father driving home after dark in Texas also lost his life when he collided with a commercial truck parked alongside the road with its lights off last month.
Additionally, a few months earlier in Illinois, a Greyhound bus reportedly crashed into three semi-trucks parked on a rest area ramp, resulting in three fatalities and severe injuries to 14 individuals.
Consequently, addressing these hazardous scenarios requires immediate attention and intervention to safeguard both drivers and public safety.
Not Enough Parking Means Not Enough Safety
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently proactively addressed the root causes of truck-related crashes in the United States.
On November 30, at the Midwest Commercial Vehicle Safety Summit, FMCSA Administrator Robin Hutcheson emphasized the importance of prevention and identifying the underlying reasons behind unsafe driving practices in the trucking industry.
The FMCSA highlighted key concerns, including the scarcity of safe parking spaces, believed to significantly contribute to unsafe driving behaviors.
According to the FMCSA, the absence of safe parking spaces might compel drivers to park in unsafe locations, contributing to fatigue and potentially resulting in crashes.
“There’s been more than one horrific crash where a commercial motor vehicle wasn’t parked where they should be,” FMCSA Administrator Robin Hutcheson said. “Is it totally their fault? I say no. They’re following the hours of service.”
In response to these challenges, the FMCSA has initiated a measure called the Truck Parking Expansion, which encourages states to use grants for expanding truck parking facilities.
The move aims to tackle the severe shortage of safe parking spaces, forcing drivers to park in potentially hazardous locations.
The Truck Parking Crisis
The COVID-19 pandemic worsened the truck parking crisis in the United States, revealing a significant and frequently underestimated challenge for truck drivers across the nation.
As lockdowns lifted and supply chains accelerated, the glaring issue of insufficient truck parking spaces became undeniable. Trucks crowded highways, exit ramps, and rest areas, underscoring a systemic problem within the trucking industry—a critical shortage of safe and accessible parking spaces for commercial drivers.
“Are they having trouble finding places to park?” FMCSA Administrator Robin Hutcheson said, adding that this is one of “all root causes of why a driver may become unsafe in the first place.”
In 2022, the American Transportation Research Institute starkly illustrated that truck parking surpasses wages and hours of service rules as the top concern for CDL drivers.
The alarming statistic highlights the gravity of the situation, with over three-quarters of truck drivers struggling to find safe parking spots, significantly increasing the risk of fatigue-related accidents and stress on drivers.
Furthermore, truck drivers palpably experience stress and frustration. A FedEx Ground Linehaul driver based in Pennsylvania expressed the conundrum of adhering to driving hour regulations while grappling to find a place to rest, creating a Catch-22 situation that leads to parking in potentially dangerous spots and facing penalties for doing so.
“What are we supposed to do? They say we can’t drive over a certain number of hours in a day... but then we have nowhere to sleep. The truck stops can be completely full, so a lot of times the off-ramp is the only place where I can park. Then we get tickets for that” said a frustrated Pennsylvania-based FedEx Ground driver.
Furthermore, the lack of safe parking is inextricably linked to driver fatigue, a leading cause of truck accidents. Hutcheson emphasizes the urgent need for safety and security in truck parking solutions, stating that drivers require more places for rest.
"We have heard drivers loud and clear - they need more places for rest and they need safety and security while doing so," stated Robin Hutcheson. "We are proactive in working at the regional and local level to point out the many resources across DOT truck parking construction, expansion, and technology solutions. We will continue to collaborate with agencies within DOT as well as all our industry partners.”
Truck Parking Expansion
In May 2023, the House Transportation Committee approved the legislation to allocate $755 million for truck parking expansion. The funding aims to build new facilities and expand existing ones, offering a glimmer of hope in a situation that has become dire for many drivers.
“Much has been made of the shortage of truck parking without looking at the underlying issue: namely, the onerous hours-of-service regulations imposed on our nation’s commercial drivers, forcing them off the road into full parking lots,” said U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., during a debate in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
This parking shortage hits states such as Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and Georgia the hardest, forcing truckers to frequently resort to parking in unsafe or unauthorized areas.
“I grew up in a family trucking business,” said Rep. Mike Bost (R-IL). “I understand how difficult, and oftentimes dangerous, it can be when America’s truckers are forced to park in an unsafe location. By expanding access to parking options for truckers, we are making our roads safer for all commuters and ensuring that goods and supplies are shipped to market in the most efficient way possible. This is a matter of public safety, and I’m proud to have led on this important legislation.”
Meanwhile, many drivers find technology, such as parking apps, to be a lifeline, but the underlying issue persists. The Biden Administration's Trucking Action Plan and the FMCSA's prioritization of truck parking reflect the federal government's recognition of this crisis in a positive development.
Congress's consideration of the proposed Safer Highways and Increased Performance for Interstate Trucking Act (SHIP IT Act) could further address the problem by increasing parking and rest facilities for commercial drivers.
Investments by the Department of Transportation in truck parking capacity, including substantial funding for new parking spaces in Florida and Tennessee, represent a welcome development. The initiatives, along with local efforts like New York City's bill for off-street parking and Arkansas's addition of 84 parking spots on I-40, demonstrate a concerted effort to confront this national issue.
New Truck Parking in Arkansas
“While a parking lot may not seem like an exciting enhancement to our state’s highway system, this is critical infrastructure not only for our industry but also for our Arkansas communities that rely on these trucks,” ATA President Shannon Newton explained.
NYC OFF-STREET PARKING FOR COMMERCIAL TRUCKS
On September 28, 2023, Council Member Justin Brannan sponsored and the City Council approved Int. 906-A, mandating the City to establish off-street parking for tractor-trailers. The objective of the bill is to relocate commercial trucks, currently illegally parked in residential areas, to designated spaces.
The Mayor must designate an agency or office to establish three or more off-street commercial parking locations by 2025. A report detailing the site selection process must be submitted to the Mayor and Speaker of the Council. Eligible sites encompass city-owned property and property owned by other government entities that the city can contract with.
Given that 80 percent of packages are destined for residential deliveries, commercial trucks frequently occupy residential neighborhoods. Illegally parked tractor-trailers and commercial trucks in residential streets lead to the removal of parking spaces for residents, create traffic problems, and block access to the curb and bike lanes, as indicated by city-data.
“In districts like mine all across the outer boroughs, tractor-trailers and commercial trucks illegally parking overnight on residential streets has long been an unsolved and intractable problem. Every day, 3.6 million packages are delivered within the five boroughs. Each year, some 365 million tons of cargo passes through the City of New York and nearly 90 percent of that cargo is still carried by truck. This commerce and these workers are absolutely crucial to our city’s economy. We have an insufficient number of designated areas for truck parking in this city, and my bill would fix that.” Council Member Brannan stated.
“Our residential streets shouldn’t look like a Flying J truck stop and our cops shouldn’t be forced to play Whac-A-Mole towing these vehicles every night. Just as truck drivers shouldn’t be forced to roll the dice parking their rigs on residential streets overnight and risk getting a ticket because the City of New York hasn’t established locations for them to park legally. Solutions for both truck drivers and our constituents that have been dealing with illegal truck parking are long overdue.” Brannan added.
Truck Parking Safety Improvement Act
On May 23, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee endorsed the Truck Parking Safety Improvement Act, among 16 other bills. Rep. Mike Bost (R-IL) introduced H.R. 2367, granting authority to the transportation secretary to issue grants aimed at establishing truck parking projects.
The proposed act further permits the expansion of existing truck parking facilities and prohibits charging drivers for spaces created under its provisions.
“I grew up in a family trucking business,” Bost said in a committee press release. “I understand how difficult, and oftentimes dangerous, it can be when America’s truckers are forced to park in an unsafe location. By expanding access to parking options for truckers, we are making our roads safer for all commuters and ensuring goods and supplies are shipped to market in the most efficient way possible. This is a matter of public safety, and I’m proud to have led on this important legislation.”
A Comprehensive Approach to Resolving the Truck Parking Dilemma
The truck parking crisis extends beyond mere convenience; it's a pressing safety and economic concern impacting not just truck drivers but the entire supply chain.
As the demand for trucking services rises in a post-pandemic world, the urgency to tackle this issue becomes increasingly evident. This challenge is fundamentally about the well-being and safety of the hardworking individuals driving America's supply chains. Recognizing the human element in the trucking industry is essential, emphasizing the need to ensure those propelling the economy forward have a secure place to rest.
The solution lies in ongoing efforts and investments to create a safer and more sustainable environment for truck drivers nationwide.
As the trucking industry plays a pivotal role in sustaining our nation's commerce, there's an undeniable responsibility to address the truck parking crisis comprehensively. This involves not only acknowledging the challenges but also actively working towards solutions that guarantee adequate and secure rest areas for truck drivers. By investing in infrastructure, implementing strategic planning, and fostering collaboration between stakeholders, we can build a foundation for a safer, more resilient trucking environment. Ultimately, the focus should be on creating conditions that support the physical and mental well-being of truck drivers, ensuring they can continue their essential work with the security and comfort they deserve.