Truckers and the Trouble with the Parking Shortage

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Truckers have been exposed to unfair working conditions ever since the demand for job positions increased significantly in the past years. While in the beginning, the shortage of drivers was the biggest concern for the industry, today it is topped by the long service hours, the lack of safety on the road, and even the high rate of health issues. The parking shortage for truckers also has been one of the biggest concerns of the industry for quite some time.

The problem – Increasing

Filled up slots, row upon row, not a single free spot in sight. Does it sound familiar? If you travel down the interstates often, you likely see rows of big rigs with almost no air between them. What you might not see from the road, however, is the large number of truck drivers who are forced to look for a space to park in other, sometimes quite unconventional areas.

The parking shortage across the nation has become a serious concern for the trucking industry and government officials. Officials have been focusing their attention on the problem ever since 2015, when the US Department of Transportation surveyed state departments on the parking practices of truckers. The results showed that in more than half of the states truckers had no other choice but to park on ramps and shoulders. The study confirmed the urgency of the matter, especially because of the hazardous effects of the problem.

Parking shortage puts drivers at risk.

With no legal place to park their trucks, drivers have no other choice but to operate or park illegally. Thus, this becomes an issue not only for the drivers but for every single person behind the wheel as well.

According to the American Trucking Association, trucks transported 10.49 billion tons of freight in 2015. This number represents $726.4 billion in gross freight revenues, adding up to 81.5% of the nation’s freight bill. Yet, there are nowhere near enough legal parking spots to provide for the safety of the people that transport this freight. With forecasts on the expansion of freight transportation in the years to come, parking becomes a real nightmare.

The Consequences – Disturbing

Very often, drivers would shut down earlier, so they can find a safe parking spot before other truckers do. A 2016 study by the American Transportation Research Institute showed that truckers sacrifice an average of 56 minutes of revenue drive time per day looking for a place to park. With this loss, parking shortage reduced each driver’s productivity by over 9,000 revenue-earning miles a year, which adds up to lost wages of $4,600 annually.

The biggest issue with the parking shortage is not about the economic effects, however. The inability to find a parking slot has become a threat for drivers themselves. When they can’t find a place to park, they have two options. One is to continue driving, and the other – to look for a random location that can fit their truck for a couple of hours. Both of these cases, however, put truck drivers at risk and threaten their safety.

Less sleep, more accidents

Truck drivers’ fatigue has become a widely acknowledged problem in the industry because the effect of fatigue on the body builds up over time. If drivers don’t rest properly on a regular basis, their bodies get tired more quickly with every additional working week. And at some point, inadequate sleep could lead to permanent fatigue. With no place to park a truck, the chances of becoming permanently tired and causing more accidents on the road increase tremendously.

Drivers’ fatigue has become the primary cause of accidents on the road, rivaling with the effects of alcohol and speeding. Estimates suggest fatigue is a factor in up to 30% of fatal crashes and 15% of severe injury crashes. It leads to low attention and lack of focus on the road, which results in lost vehicle control and inability to react quickly in critical situations. Collision with another vehicle is the type of crash that happens most often. 80% of fatal crashes involving large trucks are multiple-vehicle crashes.

Napping? But where?

Experts say that taking naps right before getting behind the wheel helps to improve focus and concentrate better on the road. The perfect amount of time for a nap is between 10 and 20 minutes. This way, you freshen up and get a new dose of energy to keep your eyes open. If you nap longer than that, you might get the opposite effect.

Quite often when truckers can’t find a place to park, they continue driving. The fatigue is still there, though. So eventually they might fall into what experts call “emergency napping”.  “Emergency napping” occurs when you suddenly feel weary and tired and cannot continue with your work. So you close your eyes even though you know you shouldn’t. This could be very dangerous both for truck drivers and for other people on the road.

Less security, more danger

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, truck driver fatalities have risen to 11.2 percent in the past five years. Primary causes of death are related to overexertion and body reactions, yet trucking groups say that the lack of parking adds to the amount of safety risk drivers face.

The lack of parking confronts drivers with the perilous task of parking at an illegal spot. They park at locations where they risk their own safety in order to avoid being too close to traffic and creating hazardous situations for others. Vacant lots, exit ramps, and shoulders are often the locations where drivers spend the nights. And none of these spots are ever well-lit.

This is exactly where the threat of robbery comes in. No surprise here, since the places where drivers park, often lack lighting and security!There have been numerous cases of robbers attacking truckers while they are taking their break from driving. Robbers would usually aim at either the value of the load in the truck or the driver’s own belongings. Today, however, criminals prefer to target commercial loads and not truck drivers’ personal belongings.

How could a driver protect the items he carries in his truck when he cannot be certain of his own security?

God forbid you are a woman in the trucking industry.  Looking for a decent spot to take a nap in the middle of the night alone with your big rig may turn into a nightmare. Women still face higher chances of harassment in every industry. But the fact that female truckers drive all alone without any security guarantee makes the risk even higher. Women in the industry state that when they spend the night in the cab, they have to sleep with one eye open.

The shortage of parking definitely puts women drivers at a disadvantage. Some might say this risk is already reflected in the higher salary rates women in the industry enjoy. Yet, the higher salary does not justify the insecurity and constant fear of being exposed to attacks, does it?

The Solution – Missing

What seems to be the biggest contradiction in the matter of parking shortage is officials’ unsupportive behavior. Instead of solving the parking shortage issue municipalities and their representatives complicate it even more. They keep on passing laws prohibiting trucking packing and even banning truck stops from building in their communities. The excuse they use for these activities is the concern for environmental impact and city traffic that trucking causes.

North Bend, Washington is one of the cities being opposed by truckers. The reason is not simply the ban for new truck parking spots to be built. The city also prevented the only truck stop in the town from being expanded to satisfy the demand for parking space. The stop has 140 spaces for truckers and is full every night. When a driver stops by and is rejected, he has to drive another 70 miles to the next truck stop. If he doesn’t fall asleep on the way, he would arrive at the new stop only to be turned down again. Since he’s already too tired to continue driving, he would end up at the next exit ramp. Illegally parked, without protection and with no peace of mind.

Another ordinance, this time in Texas, prohibits commercial vehicles from parking on streets for longer than 24 hours in a 14-day period. The explanation behind this is road maintenance and safety hazards. For truckers, this means one more time to park on city streets with the fear of being fined. Even if they don’t get a fine, they get the residents’ hatred. In Minnesota, a committee of city residents voted to install special signs that ban truck parking on the city streets.

The Future – Uncertain

The question on truck parking will be a hot topic in the next few years as the economy continues its dependency on the industry. Yet, the uncertainty of the answer is high. Will the parking shortage situation improve or not? As the debate goes on, each side brings factors that show the potential development of the issue.

New technology 

Trucker-friendly technology is on the rise. There are many new mobile apps that help drivers find a parking spot. TruckerPath is probably the most popular app among truckers who struggle with finding parking. You can also choose to go with Park My Truck as one of the most recently launched ones. Experts who develop such apps state that the problem with parking is not in the lack of free spots. It’s in the lack of awareness about such locations and the difficulty of finding them.

The research that the ATRI conducted among drivers last year showed that technology might actually have a negative impact on the parking issue. It turned out that drivers who rely on electronic logging devices to find a parking place lose more time than others who don’t use ELDs. Precisely, they spend on average 30minutes more looking for an available parking spot. Which again adds up to their lost productivity time.

The issue with new technology is that it is hard to implement on a large scale and it is never quite secure. So is there a guarantee that whatever I find on my app or ELD is not some hacker’s attempt to attack my truck?

Funding Programs 

There are a few funding initiatives to support both the state and trucking companies when it comes to parking shortage. Truckers hope these days lies in Congress’s legislation from July 2012 known as Jason’s Law. Jason’s Law pushes to provide federal money to help construct, improve, or reopen commercial parking facilities along national highways. Yet, change remains quite an expensive and slow procedure.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, the requests for parking projects add to a cumulative value of over $250 million. Yet, by last year less than 20 percent of these requests received funding. Most of the allocated money went for technological solutions that alert drivers for available parking.

New parking areas 

It seems like the government failed to focus sufficiently on solving the parking issue for trucks. The Federal Highway Commission is looking to expanding rest areas, but their purpose is not to serve truckers. They aim to add more attractions for tourists instead. The additional commercial activities will attract more visitors which will boost spending. But it would limit the parking spots left for truckers. More people in these areas will mean more cars, less free space… and a new wave of parking shortage for trucks.

There are other programs that aim to transform old industrial sites which are no longer in use for the purposes of the trucking industry. This would not bother residents as the space the parking lots would take already exists, just for other purposes.

According to the FHWA, there are more than 3 million truckers on the U.S. roads. Yet, there is parking for no more than 300,000 trucks.

For years, officials have been ignoring the issue of insufficient parking. Today, the government has at least acknowledged it. The fight is slow and exhausting, but truckers need to have their voices heard. They need to stress the importance of the topic and push for a more urgent dialogue. Until then, however, truckers will continue looking for individual ways to deal with the issue.

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About the Author:

Dilyana Dobrinova is a nature & travel enthusiast. With a heart for books, scarves and vintage. She runs a brand consulting agency, while also running 10Ks between meetings. Dilyana holds an M.A. in International Marketing Management from the Berlin School of Economics and Law in Germany, and two B.As. in Journalism & Mass Communication and in Business Administration from AUBG.
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