Long-haul trucker Glen Hamblin struggled to stay awake as he rolled down Interstate 77 through North Carolina. South of Statesville he began searching for a safe, legal place to stop for a nap.
“Every exit, I was looking and hoping to find a sign that said ‘Rest Area,’ ” Hamblin, 53, of Hyrum, Utah, said Monday.
He was afraid to sleep on the shoulder of an exit ramp. He couldn’t afford a parking ticket.
It was just before 2 a.m. Friday. Hamblin had picked up 50,000 pounds of potatoes in Michigan on Thursday for delivery to the Frito-Lay plant in Charlotte – not far from the South Carolina line, off I-77 Exit 1.
He didn’t make it. After fighting off sleep for half an hour, he crashed near Exit 9.
“I dozed off for a second and woke up just in time to see the cement barrier in front of my truck,” Hamblin said.
The impact sent the engine flying out of his overturned truck. There was a fire. I-77 was blocked for much of the day while cleanup crews used front-end loaders to scoop up the fuel-stained potatoes.
OK. Let’s allow ourselves a chuckle. But if this sleepy truck driver had nodded off in the middle of Charlotte’s rush hour, the results could have been disastrous.
While he acknowledges his error in judgment, Hamblin points out that his crash stemmed from a predicament shared by truckers in many states: a shortage of rest stops.
“The whole accident could have been avoided if I had pulled off on an exit ramp,” Hamblin said. “But in most states, it’s illegal. They’ll give you a $600 ticket for parking on an off-ramp.
“There’s not enough rest areas. Even if you do find a truck stop or a rest area, they’re full, and you still have to drive tired. It’s a big problem,” Hamblin said.
A trucker for 11 years, Hamblin spends most of his time in Western states and has little experience in North Carolina. As it turns out, his fear about being ticketed on I-77 was well-founded.
Few rest stops
He was driving Friday through one of the worst states for truckers trying to find a legal rest stop. Truck drivers need to rest when they’re sleepy or when they’re running up against federal hours-of-service limits. A 50-state survey showed that truck-stop and rest-area parking spots for truckers are far less plentiful in North Carolina than in neighboring states.
Hamblin says he didn’t know he also was driving through a state where hundreds of truckers have been ticketed in the past year for illegal parking.
A complaint to Gov. Pat McCrory from a political supporter last year sparked a quirky crackdown by the State Highway Patrol on drivers – mostly truckers – who park for naps beside exit ramps. And I-77, with a documented shortage of legal rest spots, is where troopers wrote most of these tickets last year.
To justify their “data-driven” no-parking campaign, Highway Patrol leaders seized upon crash statistics that greatly overstated the link between parked vehicles and fatal crashes.
Recent court records suggest that the patrol’s ticket-writing frenzy has slowed down this year. But a spokesman asserted Monday that “the parking enforcement emphasis is still ongoing.”
Although he made it to within a few miles of his destination, making the Frito-Lay delivery had not been his goal in the wee hours of Friday morning. He told his radio dispatcher that he was going to find some place to rest.
“In hindsight, I should have pulled off,” Hamblin said. “A ticket would obviously be better than a wrecked vehicle. It cost me my whole rig, and my way of making a livelihood.”