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Truck drivers at MATS rank truck parking as top industry challenge

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — As thousands of truck drivers poured into the Kentucky Exposition Center this week to attend the Mid-America Trucking show to look at the freshly polished show trucks, check out new products and scoop up some vendor swag, drivers also had a lot to say about some of the top challenges they face while out on the road. 

FreightWaves interviewed several drivers at MATS, and most agreed that the lack of safe truck parking is a daily struggle.

Truckers also voiced complaints about complying with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s hours of service rule that restricts the number of hours they can legally drive.

By far, the majority of truck drivers voiced concerns about truck parking in the U.S. as data shows there are more than 3.5 million CDL holders in the U.S. but only around 313,000 truck parking spaces.

Sharae Moore, an owner-operator and founder of SHE Trucking, headquartered in Chattanooga, Tennessee, was running out of hours she could legally drive when she pulled her rig into the parking lot of a home decor store in Memphis. It wasn’t her first choice to park, but she couldn’t find a safe place to park elsewhere and she saw other trucks in the lot as well. 

After parking her tractor-trailer, Moore told FreightWaves she headed to a nearby hotel to take a shower and regroup. When she returned to the lot to climb back into her truck, her custom-wrapped rig—with her face and company name covered on all sides—was gone. 

She was later told that a city ordinance prevented her from parking in the lot but doesn’t remember seeing signs posted.

It cost her nearly $800 to get her truck from a Memphis towing company and another $300 to find a place to park her rig.

It took her several hours to recover her truck because her documents were inside the truck, even though her custom-wrapped trailer has her face and the name of her company on it.

“A lot of people live in their trucks,” Moote told FreightWaves. “So when your house gets taken away and you come back and you’re like, ‘Where’s my home?’ It’s like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. It has been blown away.”

All of her documents proving that she owned the tractor-trailer were inside and it was a rigorous process to get her pink and teal rig back.

“The towing company didn’t believe that a woman owned the truck, even though my face and my name were plastered all over it,” Moore told FreightWaves. “They told me I had to prove that I owned the truck. I had to keep defending myself.”

In Memphis, Moore said it costs $300 per month to secure a safe parking space. While some truckers park in their neighborhoods, she said she doesn’t feel safe parking alongside city streets with valuable cargo, which sometimes exceeds $1 million. 

“The places we deliver to don’t want us there overnight. They just want us there on their own time to deliver,” she said. “These companies don’t want us to rest at their facilities after they’ve taken so long to unload us, after we’ve driven 11 hours to get to their facility. Then they want us to leave and keep driving? The FMCSA says we can’t drive any further.”

At a press briefing at MATS on Thursday, FMCSA Acting Administrator Robin Hutcheson said truck parking is among the top two or three issues her agency hears about from truckers.

“Letters have gone, let’s say, to the top of the U.S. government, highlighting this issue,” Hutcheson said. “And it’s not something we didn’t know about before, but we’re really feeling the urgency of the situation.”

She said FMCSA looks forward to working on this issue and “picking up some of the really great work that the Federal Highway Administration has done to try and accelerate it.”

“We know we need to work on it,” Hutcheson said. “We know this needs to be addressed because we hear over and over again, I would be a safer driver if I could have a place to rest.”

Company driver Della Hoover, 52, of Grayson, Kentucky, is a fourth generation truck driver and has been working as a long-haul driver for nearly five years, delivering mainly in the Northeast. She’s been around the industry her whole life, working on trucks with her dad, who was a truck OTR driver. Her deceased husband, her grandpa and great-grandpa were also truck drivers.

Della Hoover. Photo: Clarissa Hawes/FreightWaves

Besides driving, Hoover is also training other drivers, including two of her five sons, who are 30 and 26. Both have their permits but want more experience before becoming truck drivers.

“The one thing I tell the people I train, including my sons, is to park somewhere that is safe,” Hoover told FreightWaves. “If you park on a ramp, anything can happen. There’s nothing more important than your life. The cargo can wait.”

Hutcheson said FMCSA will closely work with the Federal Highway Administration on the truck parking issue. 

She said U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg recently testified about ways to fund truck parking to Congress.

“He listed all the eligibility that states have today to use their funds to invest in more truck parking,” Hutcheson said. “The agency is looking at what eligibility, what money there is today that can be used for truck parking and how every state’s freight plan should include truck parking, truck parking needs.”

Pausing the clock

Hoover agrees with Steven Wakefield, a heavy-haul owner-operator from Tugaske, Saskatchewan, who is leased to a U.S.-based carrier, that there needs to be more flexibility when it comes to the number of hours truckers can drive and the case for pausing the clock to allow more flexibility when it comes to ELDs.

Steven Wakefield. Photo: Clarissa Hawes/FreightWaves

While the ELD rule allows truckers to pause the clock for two hours, which Wakefield says is helpful when encountering bad weather or a traffic delay because of a serious crash, he hopes FMCSA reexamines the regulation at some point to allow more flexibility. 

“You can only pause your ELD for so long, then it runs out your clock so you can’t get to your destination, even though it’s not your fault,” Wakefield told FreightWaves. 

Wakefield hauls oversized loads, mostly cranes, and his load can weigh from 112,000 pounds to over 300,000 pounds. He is also limited to driving from sunrise to sunset and struggles sometimes to find a safe place to park his oversized load when faced with serious delays that are out of his control.

“If there’s a serious delay and my clock runs out, I’m stuck on the side of the road because I can’t drive any further to find safe parking,” Wakefield said. “This is dangerous for me and for others on the road.”

While Wakefield says he knows rest areas don’t fall under FMCSA purview, rest areas where he typically parks in several states are closing at a rapid rate. 

The biggest offenders to close rest areas and valuable truck parking spots include Virginia, Washington and California, Wakefield said.

“When you see us parked on the shoulders, it’s not because we want to be there, it’s because we’re out of hours and the cops or state troopers knock on your door so I know I’m going to get a violation and a DOT ticket because I’m out of hours or I get a ticket for parking on the shoulder and they tow my truck,” he said.

Since the ELD mandate took effect in the U.S., he’s seen more crashes because of time constraints.

Time pressures placed on truckers because of ELDs are forcing drivers to run at their “max speed at all times,” Wakefield said. ”Truckers are driving tired because they can’t stop when they need a break because of the clock.”

Wakefield, an 18-year trucking veteran who hauls cranes headed for construction sites, loading docks and ports, said there’s added pressure to meet shippers’ and receivers’ deadlines because of steep fines if he’s late.

“Even if it isn’t my fault, our customers start billing us as much as $500 an hour for being late,” he said. “Because of this added pressure, we push ourselves harder to avoid being late.”