We need truckers—these men and women crisscross the country to bring goods to shelves everywhere, and without them, our economic engine would grind to a halt. Commercial truck driving is not an easy profession, but in 29 states, it is the most common.
Finding a place to park has become one of the biggest problems truck drivers currently face, and that is a safety problem for everyone on the road. Lack of available parking space ranks number three on the American Transportation Research Institute’s Top Industry Issues report.
The issue is not just about having enough parking spaces. Drivers have primary hour limits (or Hours of Service-HOS Rules) for property-carrying vehicles. They’re called the 14-hour limit and the 60/70 limit.
Under the first HOS rule, drivers cannot be on duty for more than 14 hours, can’t drive for more than 11 of those hours, and only eight of those hours may be driven consecutively. When truckers come on duty, they must have had ten consecutive hours off duty. The second HOS rule states that if drivers work over a period of seven consecutive days, they can only be on duty for a maximum of 60 hours over that period. If drivers work eight consecutive days, they can only be on duty for a maximum of 70 hours. Parking is critical to make those rules work.
Even though OOIDA (Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association) has been highlighting this parking shortage for more than a decade, parking capacity remains a significant problem in every corner of the US. The Federal Highway Administration’s National Coalition on Truck Parking found that parking shortages exist at all times of the day, week, and year. The situation is more acute overnight and on weekdays. Major freight corridors and large urban areas present the direst of situations.
OOIDA’s Director of Legislative Affairs Bryce Mongeon explains how this impacts individual trucks and even other motorists:
“If you have a driver who is tired or wants to take a break or they are coming up on a federally mandated rest break, they need a safe place to park. Because of the shortage, if they can’t find a parking space, they are put into a no-win situation and have to decide, ‘Do I pull over and park on the highway shoulder? Do I pull over and take a break? Do I keep driving while possibly fatigued in violation of hours of service rules to find a legal parking spot?’ Obviously, that is stressful for truck drivers, but, more broadly, we are talking to Congress about how this is a safety issue for everyone on the road. If there are trucks parked illegally on the shoulder, that’s a hazard for other motorists.”
The FHWA claims there are about 313,000 highway truck-parking spots nationally: 40,000 at public rest areas and 273,000 at private truck stops. Currently, not many new spaces are coming online. Between 2014 and 2019, truck parking capacity has only increased six and eleven percent for public and private venues respectively.
This is such an issue that Congress plans to help alleviate some of the problem. In the House’s multiyear highway policy bill, some representatives want to fund a $1 billion grant program to help expand facilities for truck drivers nationwide. Specifically, the US Department of Transportation would be required to provide $250 million each year between 2023 and 2026 for truck-parking programs around the country. These would be safe rest areas for commercial drivers.
American Trucking Associations VP of Highway Operations Darrin Roth told American Trucker in December 2020 that most states don’t intend to increase capacity. He said the same is true with 79 percent of private providers. Roth noted:
“Whereas 38 percent of truck tonnage is in 32 urban areas, just 8.5 percent of truck parking spaces are in those areas. This is likely because land in large urban areas is scarce and expensive, and NIMBYism has likely prevented truck stops from being able to locate or expand in these areas. It’s critical to drivers that they are able to stay in locations where they’re making deliveries (primarily large urban areas) to maximize efficiency.”
Minneapolis is a prime example of the parking shortage and the problems that cities have with big truck parking on the street. On July 23, 2021, the city council voted to ban trucks over 6,000 pounds from street parking. Residents and businesses have complained that large trucks parked on the street obstruct signage and fire hydrants. The trucks are noisy, emit noxious fumes, and encroach on travel lanes and, of course, reduce parking availability for businesses and residents.
A truck parking ban is indeed a problem for owner-operators. Both OOIDA and the Minnesota Trucking Association have voiced strong opposition to the proposed parking restrictions. MTA President John Hausladen told Transport Topics that the measure provides no meaningful city resources to address the need for adequate truck parking. He added:
“The Minnesota Trucking Association is extremely disappointed with the action of the Minneapolis City Council today. We should be looking for ways to provide more safe parking for truck drivers, instead of pursuing a policy that would diminish an essential industry and do real economic harm to the city.”
Adequate parking is just one of the issues that truckers face—yet another infrastructure problem that the US needs to fix.