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Publication Number:      Date:  March/April 2000
Issue No: Vol. 63 No. 5
Date: March/April 2000


A Safe Place to Rest

by Maria Koklanaris

Even the most skillful truck driver becomes a highway hazard if deprived of sleep. But finding an appropriate place to stop, park that 18-wheeler, and take a much-needed rest is a challenge for many truckers.

In a survey conducted last year, more than 36 percent of truck drivers said that finding a rest area in which to park is a problem every night. More than 80 percent said that at least once a week, they continue to drive past the point of feeling "safe and alert" because they cannot find a place to stop and rest.1

In a 1997 survey of 593 long-distance truck drivers randomly selected at private truck stops and public rest areas in New York, 25 percent of the drivers said that at least once during the last year, they had fallen asleep while driving, and 17 percent said it occurred on more than one occasion. The frequency of not finding a parking space at a rest area -- 80 percent of the drivers reported that they were always or often unable to find a parking space at a public rest area at night -- was associated with drivers who fell asleep at the wheel in the past year and a tendency to violate regulations.2

Rural interstate rest area.
A rest area on a rural interstate.

When asked what, if anything, discouraged their use of public rest areas in New York, 51 percent of the surveyed drivers cited inadequate parking. Other common responses were enforcement of the two-hour parking limit (28 percent), prostitution/solicitation (16 percent), lack of security (15 percent), and poor or expensive food (14 percent).2

The Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) are working on a solution.

"Our concern is the influence that driver fatigue has on overall motor carrier and highway safety," said Raymond A. Krammes, a senior highway research engineer with FHWA's Office of Safety Research and Development. Knowing when to stop is a trucker's responsibility, he said, but having places to stop when drivers need to rest is the responsibility of several parties who must work together to identify and publicize places for drivers to get adequate rest.

FHWA brought those parties together in Atlanta last year for a Rest Area Forum. More than 70 people -- representing state departments of transportation, state law enforcement agencies, the motor carrier industry, private truck stop operators, commercial drivers, safety advocates, and other interested parties -- participated. The discussions of the forum are documented in Rest Area Forum: Summary of Proceedings, which is available at the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center Web site (www.fhwa.dot.gov/research/tfhrc/) under "Safety."3

A report to Congress on the status of rest parking for truckers, along with recommendations for addressing shortages, is due in June 2001.

It's a Puzzle

The commercialized Guiderland Rest Area.
The "commercialized" Guiderland Rest Area, west of Albany, on the New York State Thruway (I-90) includes a gas station, restaurants, and gift shops. (Photo credit: the New York State Department of Transportation)

"There are many pieces to this puzzle," Krammes said.

"Puzzle" is a good word to describe the rest-parking situation. While everyone involved has the same goal -- making sure truckers are alert and well-rested when they're driving on the road -- there are different perspectives on the best ways to achieve the goal. The trucking industry and private truck stop operators, who own about 250,000 parking spaces for truckers in the United States, disagree with one another. Safety advocates disagree with some local and state law enforcement officials.

"There are differences in views on the nature and magnitude of the problems and solutions," said Krammes.

For example, the trucking industry firmly believes that there is a serious shortage of places for drivers to stop and rest. They cite last year's survey of 2,000 truckers, conducted by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) Foundation Inc., in which:

Clifton Park Rest Area north of Albany, New York.
The new Clifton Park Rest Area on I-87 north of Albany was one of four rest areas in New York that were constructed or reconstructed to meet New York's new "Comprehensive Rest Area Policy," which calls for a well-maintained building that is open and supervised 24 hours a day, 365 days a year; that has rest rooms, drinking fountains, indoor vending machines, telephones, and tourist and travel information; that has parking for automobiles and commercial vehicles; and that has lighted walkways, parking areas, and drives. The Clifton Park Rest Area also includes a state police office.(Photo credit: the New York State Department of Transportation)

"To most in trucking, the shortage of safe places for truckers to park is quickly reaching epidemic proportions," according to an OOIDA report on its February 1999 survey. "[This is] causing drivers to modify driving schedules; violate hours of service regulations; and drive at times when, for safety reasons, they would rather be sleeping."

The survey also found that drivers often resort to parking in unsafe areas, such as along the shoulders of highways and on highway on-ramps, if they can't find a place at a rest area. Nearly 60 percent of the surveyed drivers admitted that they do this.

The final question of the survey asked drivers to provide comments that OOIDA could pass along to FHWA. Of the 579 drivers who provided a comment, 185 -- almost one-third -- urged FHWA to "build more and bigger rest areas." Other comments included a desire for more rest area security, more parking at existing rest areas, and a plea to keep all existing rest areas open.

On the other hand, officials with the National Association of Truck Stop Operators (NATSO) say that drivers who can't find a place to rest either don't know about the many available, truck stop spaces or they are deliberately passing up the truck stops. They cite their own survey of private truck stop operators, who report that "on the worst corridors, at the busiest times of the week, there was still a parking availability of 17 percent."3 Therefore, the truck stop operators disagree with the trucking industry's desire for government to provide more public rest areas for truckers.

"The Federal Aviation Administration doesn't build hotels at airports for pilots," Scot Imus of NATSO told The Washington Post in a Nov. 24, 1999, article. "That's what you have the private industry for."

Some safety advocates are also at odds with various state governments over the number of parking spaces available for truckers and the length of time truckers may stay in those spaces. Many states allow truckers to sleep undisturbed at public rest areas; they either do not have or do not strictly enforce time limits at the rest areas. But a few states mandate that police officers rouse truckers and make them move along if they have been at a public rest area more than a few hours.

The Blue Ridge Rest Area.
The Blue Ridge Rest Area on the Adirondack Northway (I-87) north of Albany has very limited facilities; however,it is one of many rest areas in New York that will be upgraded in a way similar to the Clifton Park Rest Area. (Photo credit: the New York State Department of Transportation)

About 15 percent of truckers surveyed by OOIDA said they had been ordered out of public rest areas for exceeding posted time limits. Nearly three out of four of these truckers said they were ordered back out onto the road even when they had already completed their legal maximum driving time for that day.

The advocacy group Parents Against Tired Truckers (PATT) continues to lobby strongly against such policies. The Maine-based group, which was founded by parents after four teenagers were killed in a crash caused by a truck driver who had fallen asleep at the wheel, says states endanger the lives of everyone on their highways when they push tired truckers out of public rest areas.

Krammes said that last year's Rest Area Forum gave the various parties involved in the rest-parking issue "a better understanding of different views. There was a lot of good exchange of information."

It became clear at the forum that different solutions will be needed for different areas of the country. Nevertheless, "forum participants generated a rich set of recommendations" from which involved parties can pick to tailor solutions to their state or local needs, Krammes said.


Maria Koklanaris is a free-lance writer. She has been a journalist since her graduation from The Pennsylvania State University in 1986. She has been employed by The Hamptons Magazine on Long Island, N.Y.; The Connection Newspaper Group in Fairfax County, Va.; The Washington Post; the Associated Press wire service; and The Washington Times.

Recommendations From the Rest Area Forum
by Raymond A. Krammes

From the many issues discussed during last year's two-day Rest Area Forum in Atlanta, seven top concerns emerged. These concerns and some of the recommendations for addressing them are listed below. The recommendations do not necessarily represent a consensus view of all forum participants and are not listed in priority order.

Concern: Providing Safety and Security in Public Rest Areas and at Privately Owned Truck Stops

Forum Recommendations:

Concern: Privately Owned Truck Stops' Ability to Meet the Rest Parking Need

Forum Recommendations:

Concern: Availability of Alternative Parking Sites

Forum Recommendations:

Concern: Location of Rest Areas and Truck Stops

Forum Recommendations:

Concern: Federal, State, and Local Financial Support Parking

Forum Recommendations:

Concern: Time Limits Imposed by States on Legal Commercial Vehicle Parking

Forum Recommendations:

Concern: Trucker Education About Driver Fatigue

Forum Recommendations:



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