By DAN REYNOLDS, senior editor of Risk & Insurance®
The commonwealth of Virginia, which faced a $2.6 billion transportation budget shortfall, announced that it planned to close 25 of the state's 42 public interstate rest stops in July, putting trucking risk management in the spotlight.
The Arlington, Va.-based American Trucking Associations, a trade association, objected to the announced closures, citing safety concerns. Fewer public rest stops mean fewer places for truckers to pull over and sleep, it reasoned, which increases the possibility of fatigue-related accidents.
After a series of public meetings, the commonwealth's Department of Transportation relented and decided to spare six of the rest stops.
According to Jeffery Caldwell, a spokesman for the department, the state is also going to add 225 truck parking spaces at the remaining rest stops to make up for the spaces lost in the 19 rest stops that it is closing.
STILL A PROBLEM
But by the admission of its own state officials, Virginia will still be short on places for truck drivers to park, which raises a host of problems.
"Even with all of the facilities we operate today, there is still a shortage of parking," Caldwell said.
"We're pleased by the changes they made in their plan," said Clayton Boyce, a spokesman for the truckers' association, yet he added, "I'm still of a mind that this is a bad place to cut back."
Truckers need rest stops to rest and to comply with federal regulations that limit the number of hours they can drive on a daily and weekly basis, for one.
"The drivers understand that their job, essentially, is on the line if they make mistakes in their hours of service, so not having more space available to safely park is a concern," said Todd Reiser, a vice president in the transportation practice in the Kansas City office of Lockton Insurance Brokers Inc.
But aside from federal hours of service regulations and the fatigue factor, state-run rest stops are also considered on the whole to be safer and a lot less troublesome than truck stops run by the private sector.
For one, it may be unsavory to discuss, but private-sector truck stops are known in the industry to be havens for truck-door-knocking prostitutes. State-run rest stops are also more easily accessible than private-sector truck stops, which might require some travel off the interstate.
There's also the issue of personal security, according to Jim Mahoney, a vice president of risk with Swift Transportation Inc., based in Phoenix.
Mahoney said he feels the most pressing issue created by a shortage of parking is not driver fatigue, but driver and cargo security. He said a real risk in the trucking business is truck hijackings.
Such things as electronics, trendy athletic footwear and pharmaceuticals, which can easily be sold on the street, are prime targets for hijackers. In early July, for example, a truck driver hauling electronics in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, was hijacked. Thieves stole his cargo, although they left the driver unharmed, according to press reports.
Mahoney said truck drivers prefer stops along major highways where groups of them can legally park and be safer from hijackings and other crimes.
"There is safety in numbers," he said.
Other states, including Indiana, Vermont, Colorado and Maine, are considering rest-stop closures or have already closed stops, which makes the tension between trucking safety and straightened state budgets one that will bear continued watching.
"If you want these guys to operate legally and safely and not get hurt, as well as the motoring public not get hurt, you need to allow them someplace where they can get their rest," Mahoney said.
July 10, 2009
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