While North Carolina troopers write parking tickets for truck drivers who stop for naps on interstate highway ramps, efforts are underway here and in other states to provide a few more safe parking places – and to help truckers find them.
Kansas and seven neighboring states in the Midwest won a $25 million federal grant in November for a technology network that will tell truckers – using smartphones and electronic message boards – how many vacant parking spots are available at truck stops and rest areas on the road ahead.
On Interstate 77 in Iredell County, a new state Department of Transportation rest area is expected to open in 2018 with parking spots for 55 big trucks. In May, DOT opened a rest area on U.S. 17 in Beaufort County, with 18 truck spaces.
Even with the new construction, truck drivers may have more difficulty finding a parking spot in North Carolina than in neighboring states, according to results of a new 50-state survey. The Federal Highway Administration conducted the “Jason’s Law” truck parking survey, named for a driver who was slain when he parked for a nap at an abandoned gas station in South Carolina.
Long-haul truckers need to rest when they’re sleepy or when they’re running up against federal hours-of-service limits. When legal parking areas are full, they find illegal options.
North Carolina has 723 parking spaces for truckers at state-owned rest areas and 5,122 spaces at privately owned truck stops, according to survey results released in August. Parking is more plentiful in four bordering states, ranging from a combined 7,948 truck spots in South Carolina to 13,718 in Georgia.
Except for one measure that makes Tennessee look worse, North Carolina also trails its neighbors when parking spaces are measured against highway miles and truck traffic counts. While South Carolina has 211 truck spaces for every 100 national highway system miles in the state, North Carolina has only 93.
“There are so many trucks on the road nowadays,” said driver Robin Metdepenningen of Concord, who was ticketed in June for parking beside an Interstate 77 on-ramp in Surry County. “There’s really not enough room for everybody to park when they need to take a break.”
Nearly 6 million commercial truck drivers are on the road every day.
“And with the surge in shipping around the holidays, you’ll have additional drivers who are looking for parking,” Caitlin Rayman, freight management and operations director for the Federal Highway Administration, said in an interview Monday.
Rayman said the federal agency will hold regional gatherings next year with truckers, truck stop operators and state transportation officials to find ways to ease a chronic truck parking shortage. Indiana recently added 80 truck spaces, and Wyoming added 43 with help from federal grants that are no longer available, she said, but states have the option to use other federal funds for this purpose.
More than 200 North Carolina drivers were cited this summer after the State Highway Patrol began vigorously enforcing an often-overlooked law against parking on interstate shoulders and ramps.
The crackdown started after a longtime political fundraiser complained personally to Gov. Pat McCrory. Citing data showing that parked vehicles are involved in about 25 percent of all interstate highway crash deaths, McCrory said the enforcement push was based on safety concerns.
Surry County businessman Charlie Shelton, who pushed for the no-parking enforcement, gave McCrory the results of his own truck parking survey.
On a single night in March, Shelton counted 240 trucks parked legally or otherwise along I-77 in Surry, Yadkin and Iredell counties, where there were only 150 truck-stop and rest-area spots. Along with I-77 ramps – the focus of Shelton’s complaint to McCrory – truckers also slept in the parking lots of stores, gas stations and restaurants.
“That’s unsafe,” Rayman said. “We want to make sure drivers have a place where they can get adequate rest and be able to do their job.”