Safety for all NC drivers

It sounds harmless. A long-haul trucker parks alongside an interstate ramp to catch a nap rather than continue on his or her route in a semi-sleepy state. And, yes, the same is true of regular motorists who do the same thing.

But the North Carolina Highway Patrol has some numbers that make clear the risk in catching those naps in the wrong places.

Of the more than 500 deaths recorded in interstate highway crashes over the past five years, 101 of them had parked vehicles as one of the causes.

So now the patrol will be beefing up enforcement of a law already on the books that’s often overlooked. The patrol will be enforcing a law that specifically says drivers cannot “stop, park, or leave standing any vehicle, whether attended or unattended, on any part or portion of the right of way” of interstate highways. Emergencies are exceptions, of course.

The patrol notes that the right of way includes paved and dirt shoulders along the ramps as well as on the main roads.

This wake-up from the patrol, so to speak, has expanded along the way.

Truckers, and the industry of which they’re part, can be sensitive about something that seems to focus on them and only on them. The trucking profession has been glamorized in film and song, and truckers take pride in their profession.

So they got a little touchy apparently when the patrol’s initial warning about parking near ramps went out with a little “attention all truckers” salutation on it.

The patrol, which can be pretty image-savvy, reacted quickly and expanded the warning to include “all motorists.”

“We’re not picking on truckers or commercial drivers,” a patrol spokesman said. “We’re asking all motorists to plan their routes and make sure they have proper stopping points.”

So is this too much infringement on the rights of people to take a harmless break? Perhaps, years ago, it might have been seen as such. But anyone who has spent much time on North Carolina’s roadways in recent years knows that hazards aren’t just about speed and reckless driving.

Col. Bill Grey, commander of the patrol, says it’s all about safety. “With the increased traffic volume across the state,” he said, “it is imperative that we keep our highways free of roadside hazards to include improperly parked vehicles.”

Indeed, most motorists can imagine a typical scenario: It’s dark, it’s late and you’re finishing a long trek on the interstate to get home or see relatives. You are a good driver. You know the road. You’re wide awake. And then you take your exit and hear a noise or get a cell phone call or something that creates just the slightest bit of distraction, enough to cause you to veer just inches off the exit ramp. If there’s a vehicle parked there, you’re in potentially serious, even deadly, trouble.

Some in the trucking industry have a complaint that drivers need to rest because of the limits put upon them by federal work limits: not working more than 14 hours out of 24 and not driving more than 11 of those hours. Frankly, those limits seem reasonable. And even independent drivers not monitored by company dispatchers can make managing their time, and finding truck stops on their routes, a priority.