Truck drivers have a problem: COVID-19 fears are closing rest stops

During this time[1] of uncertainty and panic, truck driver Chad Williams is busy moving a load of goods through America’s east coast. However, when it comes time to park his truck and get a little shut-eye, he’s running into a challenge.    “By 4 p.m., the rest stops fill up,” Williams told Business Insider. “There’s nowhere to park.”

Filled rest areas means that there are fewer options for food, water and rest. Along with truck stops like Pilots or Love’s, the truck drivers that bring us food, clothing and – yes – toilet paper, depend on these places to eat, rest, use the bathroom and park their trucks at night.    Adding pressure to truck drivers’ already-complicated daily lives, some state-owned rest stops are shuttering as the novel coronavirus forces stores and restaurants nationwide to close.

Pennsylvania closed all 30 of its rest stops earlier this week, but announced[2] it would open 13 back up to parking and portable toilets as of Thursday. Michigan closed its 14 welcome centers[3], which serve nearly 8 million commercial and non-commercial drivers annually, on Monday[4]. A Nebraska DOT representative told Business Insider that some of its rest stops are being closed when an attendant isn’t present to prevent toilet-paper theft[5], although truck parking will still be available.

Texas closed its 12 welcome centers on Tuesday[6], leaving truck parking and outdoor restrooms available.  Parking at night is arguably the most crucial service from a state-owned rest stop, because it’s hard to find a place to park a huge vehicle. This is just one of many reasons that it’s important to keep rest areas open.

“Rest areas are critical because of the shortage of parking,” truck driver Rachelle Tuttle told Business Insider. “Truck stops cannot accommodate all of us by any stretch.” Nearly 80% of truck drivers said in a survey conducted by the Department of Transportation that they struggle to find parking at night. Another survey of Atlanta-area truck drivers showed that 51% of them spend more than an hour driving around for a place to park.[7][8]

Pilot Flying J truck stop The partial closure of the Pennsylvania rest stops is hitting truck drivers the hardest. Pennsylvania is a key conduit for many of the nation’s highways and freight flows, and fewer options for food and rest in that dense area can leave truck drivers scrambling. 

After significant pressure from drivers and the American Trucking Associations, the biggest trade group of trucking companies, Pennsylvania reopened 13 stops for truck parking. However, they’re only available on Thursday. These stops have at least five portable toilets in the parking lot, which the state government said are being cleaned regularly.

“Every decision made has been in the interest of mitigating the spread of COVID-19 and we are constantly reevaluating our response,” PennDOT Acting Secretary Yassmin Gramian said in a press release on Wednesday. “That said, we also recognize the importance of freight movement and that drivers need access to rest areas.” When drivers can’t find a place to park, they’re sometimes forced to park on the shoulders of freeways, which is illegal in some states, or in deserted retailers or gas stations. These options are potentially life-threatening.

Jason Rivenburg, a father and truck driver, died in 2009 after an armed robber shot him in the head, stealing all of £7 from Rivenburg’s possession. The truck driver was forced to park his truck in an abandoned South Carolina gas station[9] after no other truck parking existed. Rivenburg left behind three children and a wife when he died at 35.

In response to Rivenburg’s death, Congress passed “Jason’s Law” to study the shortage of truck parking nationwide[10].

“Truck drivers are currently out on highways all across the country delivering food, fuel and medical supplies to beat back this crisis,” American Trucking Associations spokesperson Sean McNally said in a statement. “While they may be working tirelessly, drivers do need to park, rest and take advantage of the facilities at rest areas so we are pleased to see these facilities being reopened for America’s truck drivers.”

References

  1. ^ time (www.businessinsider.com)
  2. ^ announced (www.penndot.gov)
  3. ^ its 14 welcome centers (www.michigan.gov)
  4. ^ on Monday (www.michigan.gov)
  5. ^ to prevent toilet-paper theft (journalstar.com)
  6. ^ on Tuesday (www.timesrecordnews.com)
  7. ^ said in a survey conducted by the Department of Transportation (ops.fhwa.dot.gov)
  8. ^ more than an hour driving around for a place to park. (www.ttnews.com)
  9. ^ in an abandoned South Carolina gas station (ops.fhwa.dot.gov)
  10. ^ to study the shortage of truck parking nationwide (ops.fhwa.dot.gov)

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