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Publication Number: FHWA-RD-01-160
Date: March 2002

Commercial Vehicle Driver Survey: Assessment of Parking Needs and Preferences

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

In 1998, Congress issued a mandate that research be conducted to determine the location and quantity of parking spaces at public rest areas and private truck stops along the National Highway System (see section 4027 of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century). The congressional mandate specifies that current and projected truck parking shortages be assessed. To accurately assess shortages, it is necessary to go beyond a simple count of parking spaces available across the Country. Shortages must be estimated by measuring the parking supply in light of regional, driver-preference, and other influencing factors.

As part of the effort to respond to the congressional mandate, the current study measured truck driver parking needs and preferences. Through a nationwide survey of truck drivers, the study sought to determine:

  • How truck drivers plan for and address their parking needs.
  • How truck drivers select when, where, and at which facilities they park.
  • What truck drivers think of the adequacy of current parking facilities.

The "Truck Parking Needs and Preferences" survey developed for this study was designed and organized with the help of many industry stakeholders. As part of the survey development process, a working meeting was held with stakeholders from across the Country. During the working meeting, participants reviewed a draft "Truck Parking Needs and Preferences" survey and provided feedback on survey format and on question content and format. Communication with the stakeholders began before the draft survey was generated and continued after the stakeholder meeting for subsequent survey revisions. Stakeholders represented varied, sometimes opposite, perspectives and included State enforcement and department of transportation officials, motor carriers, private truck stop operators, commercial drivers, and safety advocates. The final survey reflected a comprehensive examination of truck drivers' parking needs and preferences. To ensure that the length, content, and format of the survey were acceptable to truck drivers, 40 drivers completed the survey and provided feedback during a pilot data collection period.

Surveys were collected from a national sample of 2,046 truck drivers both directly, through site visits to truck stops, and indirectly, through mail-backs from truck stops. Survey distribution and collection locations were chosen in order to reach a nationally representative sample of drivers. The sample included male and female drivers; independent owner/operators; and drivers for small-, mid-, and large-sized carriers. The majority of respondents identified themselves as long-haul drivers.

How Truck Drivers Plan for and Address Their Parking Needs

Nearly all drivers reported that they, not their company colleagues, decide where they will park. Most drivers make the decision as they are driving. Drivers commented that they find it difficult to plan parking before they embark on their trips because their schedules often change. For example, shipper and receiver locations may be "backed up" and cause them delay in moving on to their next destination. Because they are delayed, drivers cannot travel as far in their remaining legal duty hours as originally planned. They must choose a parking facility that comes sooner along the corridor they are traveling. Despite this impediment to parking planning, many drivers said that they can improvise because they know the location of most parking facilities.

How Truck Drivers Select When, Where, and at Which Facilities They Park

Drivers' responses to the survey demonstrated definite preferences and priorities when it comes to choosing where they will park. When drivers park their trucks, most expect to satisfy only their basic needs. Drivers prefer parking facilities that provide food, fuel, restrooms, phones, and showers. They also consider safety and convenience important when they park their trucks. Drivers do not consider entertainment and other "luxuries" to be necessary characteristics of a parking facility. As one driver urged, "I just want to find a place to park that is safe and available." Because truck stops typically provide showers, restaurants, and repair facilities, it is not surprising that drivers generally prefer private truck stops to public rest areas. Rest areas are preferred only when drivers park for quick naps. For more lengthy activities such as eating a meal, resting for the night, or repairing a truck, drivers would choose truck stops whenever possible.

What Truck Drivers Think of the Adequacy of Current Parking Facilities

When members of the survey team approached drivers to introduce the study, the single most common verbal response given by drivers was "build more spaces." A handful of drivers remarked that they don't see a problem with truck parking, with one driver going so far as to say, "drivers just need to learn how to park their trucks!" However, the majority of drivers seemed to consider the problem epidemic. A majority of survey respondents indicated that they rarely or almost never find available parking at public rest areas. Fewer respondents reported such consistent trouble finding available parking at private truck stops; however, the number one recommendation made by drivers for improving the parking situation was "build more truck stop spaces." The popularity of this recommendation may reflect the fact that over three-quarters of respondents prefer to use truck stops for long-term rest. Most survey respondents indicated that the parking facilities they encounter generally have characteristics that make those facilities usable. But, drivers did recommend that time limits be eliminated and that parking lot layouts be improved to facilitate the ingress and egress of tractor-trailers that are commonly 53 feet in length.

Drivers indicated in both their written and verbal remarks that one sure way to improve the truck parking situation is to discourage law enforcement officers from waking sleeping drivers. Drivers reflected the same concern as stakeholders that safety is jeopardized when fatigued truck drivers are on the road. The drivers expressed a sense of responsibility for getting off the road whenever they feel tired.

The parking needs and preferences relayed by drivers in this study are neither surprising nor complicated. Drivers want more parking spaces, and they would like to find those spaces in clean, safe parking facilities. When drivers park their trucks, they want access to basic amenities. They want to eat a meal, take a shower, and get a few hours of uninterrupted sleep. Drivers participating in this survey were grateful for the opportunity to share their perspectives. They expressed a willingness to work together with industry and safety stakeholders to improve truck parking across the Nation.

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