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As truck drivers navigate America's highways, something as simple as safe and convenient parking can be difficult to find.
To address the need, Iowa has joined seven other Midwest states in a pilot program creating an information system to help bridge the gap between truck drivers and safe parking spaces.
Brenda Neville, president and chief executive of the Iowa Motor Truck Association, said a lack of safe parking is a significant issue for everyone on the road, not just in Iowa, but the industry nationwide.
'At the end of the day this all comes down to safety,” Neville said. 'When you have trucks that don't have a place to park, but they have to park because they are required to, they have no choice but to put themselves in possibly an unsafe environment as far as parking, not only for the truck driver but the cars passing on the road as well.”
To address concerns of safety and the financial loss that occurs when drivers spend wasted minutes searching for a parking space, the Iowa Department of Transportation is participating in an eight-state program to log and share parking vacancy data with truck drivers. The program is named the Regional Truck Parking Information and Management System - or TPIMS.
The logging program is taking place in tandem with Iowa DOT's review of the state-owned rest areas. That review could entail shuttering 11 rest areas over 30 years.
Addressing a problem
The TPIMS program will be created and tested by eight of the 10 states under the Mid America Association of State Transportation Officials.
According to the Regional TPIMS website, dubbed Trucks Park Here, more than 9.2 billion tons of freight cross the country each year.
Large trucks account for nearly 13 percent of all fatal crashes in the United States, while freight trucks are involved in a quarter of all fatal work zone crashes, according to the site.
What's more, driver fatigue plays a major role in collisions, accounting for 87 percent of all crashes where the truck was the main cause.
To combat fatigued driving, truck drivers are required to regularly stop for rest. New federal rules, which took effect late last year and require the use of electronic logging devices, make it easier to monitor drivers' time on the road.
But finding safe parking to take a required rest can prove to be a challenge - four out of five drivers need up to an hour to find legal parking.
Other drivers settle for road shoulders, offramps or unsafe areas or continue driving longer than they should.
'Parking for truck drivers is a concern, especially with the expectation that they have a 30-minute rest period at least every eight hours,” said Cameron Holzer, president of CRST Expedited.
According to the site, 10 big-rig drivers are killed each year. Meanwhile, 86 percent of truck cargo thefts occur in unsecured sites and 90 percent of trucks have reported struggling to find safe parking at night.
The TPIMS effort, which will be funded largely by a federal $25 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant, stems from 2012 legislation dubbed Jason's Law.
That law, which supports nationwide truck parking projects, is named for Jason Rivenburg, a commercial truck driver who died on the job in 2009. Rivenburg was unable to find a rest area or truck stop while in South Carolina and parked to rest at an abandoned gas station, where he was robbed and killed.
'I think we've known in the transportation industry for some time that we have a lack of quality truck parking across the nation on the interstate systems,” said Phillip Mescher, a travel, forecasting and telemetrics team leader with Iowa DOT. 'This Jason's Law incident really helped bring some light to it.”
A new program
TPIMS aims to connect truck drivers with available parking to enhance safety and reduce the time drivers spend searching for a place to rest.
Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin are participating in the program, using the federal grant supplemented with $3.7 million in state contributions.
Iowa has received nearly $3.4 million in the federal funds and will chip in about $500,000 in state dollars.
Participating states currently are in the hardware development phase of the project, with self-testing and system calibration taking place this fall, Mescher said.
This January, all state systems - which work independently of each other - will go live. They all are set to operate for three years and then be evaluated.
'Each state will decide if it's a very useful system and whether we want to continue with it into the future,” Mescher said.
Iowa's program will include the installation of cameras and sensors at 42 parking locations - 21 private and 21 public - across Interstate 80.
Those will be used to track parking availability and trends - like when a location is filling up. That data will be provided to third-party application developers or those who build in-cab information systems for drivers.
Delia Meier, senior vice president of the Iowa 80 Truckstop in Walcott, said her property, which bills itself as the world's largest truck stop and boasts 900 truck parking spots, is participating in the state program.
'I think truck parking is an issue that a lot of people are really passionate about, including me. The private sector is really building a lot of truck parking and it makes sense for the DOT to consider private truck parking as well as public truck parking,” Meier said.
In addition to connecting drivers with safe, available parking, officials said TPIMS has economic benefits.
The less time truck drivers spend looking for parking, the more time they can spend getting goods to the consumer.
Combined, every 15-minute search for truck parking costs close to $4.4 billion a year, according to TPIMS.
'I think it's a good program to focus on enhancing the amount of parking, in addition to giving them complete visibility of where there is parking,” CRST Expedited's Holzer said.
What's more, Holzer said, better parking options could be the deciding factor for a driver considering a change of career. In an industry starved for drivers, keeping employees satisfied is key, he said.
'I think each transportation company is looking at every irritant that is getting to their driving staff and they're trying to find solutions to those irritants,” he said.
Iowa's participation with TPIMS overlaps with its review of its 37 full-service rest areas.
The Iowa Statewide Rest Area Management Plan includes proposals to shutter 11 rest areas over a 30-year span and close another 15 parking-only rest sites over 15 years. All told, the closures could mean about $30 million in savings in two decades.
State officials have said rest areas eyed for possible closures are near many privately-owned options so motorists do not find themselves unable to find a place to park.
Public comments on the rest area proposal will be collected until September 2019.
Neville, with the Iowa Motor Truck Association, said she applauded the state's approach to parking and truck logging systems. She added it's important that any decisions on the elimination of parking be made carefully.
'This is a safety issue as much as anything and we cannot lose sight of that,” she said.
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