Better Truck Parking with Technology and TxDOT

Those who aren’t in the truck driving community can take parking for granted. They simply drive to work, to the grocery store, or to the gym, and a parking spot typically isn’t tough to find. At night, most people don’t think twice about driving home and parking their vehicles in a safe, well-lit area.

For truck drivers, this isn’t the case. Quite the opposite, in fact. Due to a shortage of parking spots for trucks, many drivers are forced to make a choice between driving farther away from their destination, stopping shorter than they would like to, or settling on parking in a potentially unsafe location to get rest.

Truck parking might have ranked 5th in the American Trucking Research Institute’s Top Industry Issues for 2018, but many truckers will tell you it’s the first thing they think about upon waking up in the morning. 

Studies have repeatedly shown that truckers are ending their driving day shorter than they would like in order to ensure they can find parking before running out of allowable hours. A majority of drivers indicate that this often occurs with about one hour of driving time left. 

“Repeatedly at GATS, both my colleague and I were told by truckers that they are stopping with two hours of driving time remaining in their day,” said Scott Grenerth, former director of regulatory affairs at OOIDA and current consultant for Truck Specialized Parking Services (TSPS). 

Although his time as a truck driver is more part time now, for Grenerth, parking was his “number one stress as a driver” when driving was his primary occupation.

“The carriers…the ATA level people, they’re even starting to get into the game of saying ‘Hey, we care about truck parking because it affects everybody’s bottom line and how you operate.’ If you’ve gotta stop your truck short of where you want to be, you’ve got limited hours to work with. The next day, you start your day short of where you wanted to be, so you’re going to end up short again. That’s not the way you make money!”

But it wasn’t just the inconvenience of lost time and money on the road that bothered Grenerth.
“Even owning my own truck and maintaining it...that still wasn’t as stressful as ‘am I going to be able to park tonight? Where am I going to be able to park? Will I wake up in the morning safe or is something going to happen in the middle of the night? What’s going to happen to my load in the trailer?’” 

Listen to our conversation with Scott Grenerth about truck parking on our podcast, Trucking For Millennials.

A matter of life and death

The dire nature of this issue isn’t due to the inconvenience of having to drive farther down the highway to find an empty spot. Truck parking lots fill quickly, leading drivers to resort to other options such as highway on/off ramps, behind shopping centers, abandoned lots, or isolated areas. 

One study revealed that 88 percent of drivers felt unsafe while parked during mandatory rest or waiting for pickup or delivery of a load over the past 12 months. Feelings that aren’t unwarranted.

A tragic example of these unsafe conditions comes from  a truck driver named Jason Rivenburg. He had just delivered a load in Virginia and was running ahead of schedule for his next delivery only 12 miles away at the Food Lion supermarket in South Carolina.

But the store wouldn’t take early deliveries and wouldn’t allow Jason to park on their property and wait until his scheduled time. The only available parking in the area was at an abandoned gas station.

Meanwhile, a career felon was hanging around near the abandoned gas station where Jason had parked. Noticing Jason’s parked truck, he waited for him to fall asleep, robbed and murdered him, walking away with $7.00.

Just thirteen days after Jason’s murder, his wife Hope delivered twins. Jason left behind a wife and three children.

Out of this senseless tragedy came Jason’s Law in 2015, which empowers the Federal Highway Administration to enable states to improve parking through comprehensive studies and action plans so that truck drivers are safer and better protected. The updated study is currently underway.


Seeking safer solutions for parking

At the Great American Truck Show in Dallas last month, Grenerth helped lead a panel discussion that explored the challenges drivers face in finding safe truck parking and potential solutions to tackle the problem. 

The panel focused specifically on collecting feedback from drivers on the challenges they face on a daily basis and possible solutions that Texas Department of Transportation could implement after the study ends in 2020. 

When it comes to truck parking, there’s a need for what’s referred to as staging, or queuing. Truckers use staging areas for a few hours primarily to avoid rush hour traffic and wait near a destination for their pickup or delivery. 

“I know one of the gals on the panel today…(would drive in before rush hour traffic). She had a place she knew she could kind of sneak back in and just hide at, and be out of everybody’s way, mostly, and be able to take a break while traffic was still happening.” 

By utilizing her “trucking smarts” to create her own staging area to use for a couple of hours, this made delivering to her destination only a few blocks away much easier when the market opened.

“She kind of invented this space. That’s what they want to move away from,” Grenerth said. “(They want) to be able to provide formal places for that to happen and to make sure there’s good lighting there so it’s a safe environment.”

As another solution, participants discussed the idea of thinking smaller when it comes to parking space. 

“The bottom line of simply having more options in more places, even if they’re smaller, was really a common theme that came up today, both for staging and overnight parking.” 


Digitizing the Parking Lot

While federal and state regulators are developing comprehensive ways to address the issue, technology is also playing a role in helping truck drivers park more efficiently. TSPS, the company Scott currently consults for, has developed, a platform that helps truck drivers not only know where to park, but how many individual spots are available and if they can be reserved for a future stay.

But this innovative use of technology hasn’t yet found its place on every trucker’s phone. According to a recent poll from Overdrive Online, 41% of truck drivers say they “never” reserve parking spots, while others respond that they do seldomly, or when there are no other options available.

But this could change as the tech gets more sophisticated. Scott told us on our most recent episode of the Trucking For Millennials Podcast that some states, across the Midwest especially, have invested in sensors to let drivers know exactly how many parking spaces are available.

 “On our map, there are locations that have the letter ‘A’ on them, that means there’s real-time truck parking availability that’s exact, right to the minute,” Grenerth said. “That way, a trucker can say ‘hey, I can keep going because I know there’s a spot up ahead.’ 

Empowering drivers with the ability to see how exactly how many spots are available at a truck stop will provide more flexibility in when and where they park, on top of whether or not they might want to reserve a space.

Looking ahead

It’s unfortunate that a tragedy had to take place prior to federal and state governments taking meaningful action to improve truck parking around the state, but It’s good to see TxDOT is finally taking this issue seriously and is in the process of finding comprehensive solutions. 

We did reach out to TxDOT in preparation for this post and they shared that they are “pleased with the response” they have gathered so far. They are still in the “process of determining the need” and will be ready to share updated truck parking data when their survey is complete in the Spring of 2020. 

We look forward to seeing their action plan, and will keep you updated on progress being made.