We depend on truck drivers to transport goods across the U.S., and a shortage of drivers has been an ongoing issue for the trucking industry. But just like a shortage of drivers, a shortage of semi truck parking has also become an issue. With so many trucks on the road, finding available truck parking spots can be a problem for drivers. According to the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), an insufficient number of parking spaces at rest areas and truck stops is one of the top three issues that worries drivers, especially because they’re required to take mandatory rest breaks by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). It’s a problem without a quick fix that can have a big impact on drivers.
Driver Time and Pay
Truckers understand the clock is always running, and time is money. They must plan for the next change in route or the next stop along the way, with some of those stops mandated by FMCSA hours of service rules. Drivers know how important it is to comply with mandatory rest breaks because violating FMCSA rules can lead to costly penalties that impact their pay. But when ready to make a stop, drivers spend an hour on average in search of parking as they prepare to end their shifts, according to the American Trucking Associations (ATA). For 39% of drivers, it takes an hour or more to find parking, according to the Department of Transportation (DOT). The time spent trying to find parking reduces driver pay by about 12% annually, and drivers will earn an average of $5,500 less because of this. Unfortunately, losses of efficiency and productivity aren’t the only costs that drivers incur.
Although many rest stops are located along highways and busy roads, space is often limited with trucks crammed next to each other. If drivers are unable to find safe parking, some decide to park illegally in potentially dangerous spots like off an exit ramp, in a vacant lot or on the shoulder of a road as a last resort. According to a survey in 2020, 98% of truckers experienced being unable to find safe parking spots to take their mandatory breaks. Common risks that truckers experience, especially when parked illegally, include vehicle damage from speeding cars or hit-and-runs, property theft and predatory behavior against female drivers. And in some cases, where a driver has parked has proved fatal.
When the possibility of less pay is combined with greater personal risk and long hours behind the wheel, it’s no surprise that some drivers choose to retire or leave the profession. Replacing these lost drivers is a significant challenge for the trucking industry and has been for some time. The ATA reported that driver turnover was 90% in 2020, and the shortage of drivers within the industry could rise to more than 160,000 by 2030. But as the U.S. economy grows, the demand to move freight increases, requiring more trucks and drivers on the road, not less. And at some point, drivers will need to park those trucks which makes a shortage of parking such a big problem.
Jason’s Law Truck Parking Survey
In 2012, the federal government implemented the Jason’s Law Truck Parking Survey to help pinpoint areas of improvement regarding parking. Under Jason’s Law, the DOT and state motor carrier representatives are required to conduct a regular assessment of commercial motor vehicle (CMV) parking, including:
- Evaluating sufficient parking and rest facilities for vehicles that carry freight
- Creating a system to report the adequacy of CMV parking facilities
- Monitoring the amount of CMV traffic on a regular basis
Jason’s Law utilizes driver surveys to gather data about truck stop parking, vehicle traffic and other metrics as part of a statewide truck parking study. The intent is to create an accurate system for ongoing information-gathering that can inform decisions by various government agencies. With real driver feedback, federal and state governments are one step closer to identifying where to invest additional resources to create more rest stops and parking for truckers.
Truck Parking Safety Improvement Act
The Truck Parking Safety Improvement Act was recently proposed to specifically fund rest areas for truckers and address truck parking needs. The bill would have granted more than $1 billion over the next five years towards projects that provide free rest stops along federal-aid highways or for upgrading facilities near federal-aid highways. Unfortunately, the bill was not passed as part of the larger $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill last August. However, it signals that the parking crisis is gaining some attention nationally, and that’s an important first step.
Truck Parking Availability Program
The Truck Parking Information Management System (TPIMS) was implemented to help inform truck drivers about the availability of parking at certain rest areas. Initiated by each State’s DOT, TPIMS collects real-time parking information using sensors in parking facilities. Data is then sent to an information processing center where it’s converted into parking availability information for truckers to access. With that information in hand, it can minimize the amount of time drivers must spend finding rest stops and parking to end their shifts.
With thousands of trucks on the road every day, finding adequate parking can be a real challenge for drivers. Although there are many rest stops and truck stops available, space is often limited and finding somewhere to park can take time. When there isn’t enough parking, some drivers resort to parking illegally which can expose them to great personal risk and even FMCSA fines. Because of the critical role truck drivers play in driving our economy (no pun intended), finding solutions to this basic need should be a priority for state and federal governments. Although efforts are underway, the problem has yet to be solved.