The wheels on the trucks go round and round, and it is owing to the perpetual motion of the trucking industry that the U.S. economy is on a roll. The men and women behind the wheel of the semi-tractor-trailers are not machines, though, and need a place to rest and recuperate when the road takes its toll. Pull-off parking spaces can no longer accommodate the vast fleet of transport vehicles that ply the nation’s highways and byways, and relieving the shortage is in the nation’s interest.
Americans traveling during the Labor Day weekend can bear witness to the observation that if big rigs don’t own the asphalt, they certainly occupy it. While they account for only about 4 percent of vehicles registered nationwide, the bulky trucks nearly match the number of passenger vehicles along high-volume interstate corridors.
Truck-traffic doubters should eyeball an ordinary back-up on any number of eastern U.S. expressways: The 18-wheelers stand bumper to bumper in a nearly unbroken chain, almost like the boxcars of a freight train. All told, more than 70 percent of the nation’s goods are delivered by truck.
Highway travelers are equally familiar with the sight of trucks vying for a safe place to stop along their delivery routes. Many interstate rest areas have long since exhausted their reserve of spots for tractor-trailers, and it’s common at night to make out idling semis precariously spilling over onto highway exit and entrance ramps, their dark dimensions outlined by amber running lights.
Federal regulations limit cargo haulers to 11 hours behind the wheel after 10 consecutive hours off-duty, and they require a 30-minute break after eight hours, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. When lots are full, drivers facing mandatory stoppage must pull over somewhere or else.
Providing truckers with places to steer out of the high-speed flow is not just a matter of comfort and convenience for drivers but safety for all highway travelers. As truck traffic has surged, the number of persons killed annually in crashes involving large trucks on U.S. roadways has also climbed from about 5,424 in 1975 to more than 5,897 in 2019, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data. Truck-crash injuries have increased from 170,000 in 1988 to 205,000 in 2019.
These are ample reasons why Congress should include funds for expanding truck parking facilities along the nation’s highways, something the current Senate version of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill fails to do. In fact, only 9 percent of the Senate bill is currently designated for road-related projects. With truck freight forecast to grow another 6 percent during 2021, the shortfall of proper truck spots can only worsen.
The stream of big rigs delivering the goods that 333 million U.S. citizens rely on can only stay in motion if the men and women who operate them can safely stop. Funds to build more accessible truck parking will help to keep America on the move.