- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Two fatal accidents in the past two weeks involving area motorists slamming into parked tractor-trailers have renewed safety concerns about the commercial-trucking industry.

Douglas R. Hecox, a spokesman for the Federal Highway Administration, said the problem is that more truckers are on the road, which has resulted in fewer places for them to park their rigs.

“And unless something is done, something is explored, these problems are likely to continue,” he said.

Though the fatality rate on U.S. highways decreased in 2004 to a record low, the number of fatal crashes involving large trucks increased from 4,986 in 2003 to 5,169 in 2004, according to the Department of Transportation. About 100 of them occurred in Virginia and 83 in Maryland, the agency said.

Officials think the number of crashes could be reduced if truck drivers have more places to park.

A federal report several years ago found that the number of parking spaces at truck stops and plazas in Maryland and Virginia exceed the demand. The report also found the 7,500 spaces in California were nowhere near the more than 15,000 needed.

The accident Monday morning in which a Temple Hills motorist was killed on the Inner Loop of the Capital Beltway occurred when he struck a disabled and legally parked tractor-trailer on the shoulder of the road.

However, the Feb. 25 accident in which a Bowie man and woman were killed was the result of them smashing into a tractor-trailer illegally parked on a ramp from Route 50 to Route 3 so the driver could sleep, according to state police.

“There’s no question that in some parts of the country, there is a shortage of available parking for truck drivers,” said Tiffany Wlazlowski, a spokeswoman for American Trucking Associations.

Congress has attempted to address the issue by passing the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act. President Bush signed the bill in August, which will provide the Federal Highway Administration $25 million over the next four years to give money to states needing more rest and travel stops.

Officials hope the law, which also attempts to mark truck stops more clearly, will reduce accidents by providing more legal places for tired truckers to sleep.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has estimated that driver fatigue is the primary factor in 4.5 percent of crashes involving large trucks and a secondary factor in 10.5 percent of such crashes.

Last Thursday, a trucker whose rig overturned on the Outer Loop of the Beltway and caused the death of a motorist was cited for negligent driving and violating federal rest rules, which prohibit long-distance drivers from driving more than 11 hours after 10 hours off-duty.

“What is needed is for drivers to obey safety rules for getting rest and sleep,” said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John B. Townsend II.

He also said the lines of trucks often seen pulled over on Route 50 at night should instead be at designated stops. “Some truckers appear not to be obeying that,” Mr. Townsend said.

Maryland State police First Sgt. Russell Newell said highway patrol officers are charged with moving stopped tractor-trailers along on their way but face a tough decision when deciding to put a tired trucker back on the road.

“That’s the essence of the problem,” he said. “Does an overly fatigued driver constitute an emergency? I don’t know.”

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