State program assists truck drivers seeking mandatory rest

By: Stuart Korfhage

For the full story visit: www.staugustine.com

For those who make a living driving a big rig, laws, common sense and lack of real estate often pull against them in different directions.

Federal laws require drivers to take rest breaks after eight hours, and they can only operate within a 14-hour period each day. A driver may not drive after the end of the 14-consecutive-hour period without first taking 10 consecutive hours off duty.

That means the men and women delivering goods around the country must be constantly thinking ahead to where their next place to stop will be. Finding a safe, legal spot to park for a rest period is often a dilemma for the driver workforce, so the Florida Department of Transportation is trying to make it easier.

FDOT has launched a pilot program that monitors parking availability at state rest areas and weigh stations to let truck drivers know whether there will be a spot for them.

While it eventually will be launched statewide, the program has been tested in north and central Florida, including the two rest areas along Interstate 95 in St. Johns County.

“Truck drivers are subject to hours of service limits,” said FDOT project manager Jeff Frost. “Finding a safe place to park is an issue, a problem, for truck drivers. If they have to stop at a certain number of hours, they may park in an unsafe location. The whole thing is to ensure safety for truck drivers and all motorists.”

According to an FDOT publication, the initiative stems somewhat from a 2009 incident in which truck driver Jason Rivenburg of New York was murdered in South Carolina. He sought a safe spot to rest before delivering a load of milk and his “unfamiliarity with parking options nearby led him to park at an abandoned gas station,” the FDOT newsletter said.

Tisha Keller, vice president of the Florida Trucking Association, said finding safe parking options is a constant problem for drivers.

“Truck parking is a huge issue in the trucking industry,” she said. “It’s a really big issue on I-4.”

The first phase of the FDOT program launched this year. It uses sensors and closed circuit television cameras to determine where spaces are free. That information is then displayed on signs several miles from the rest area, letting drivers know how many spaces are empty at a given site.

The second phase of the program, expected in 2018, will be the statewide expansion. The plan is to distribute the information in several ways, including an app that can be accessed by drivers and dispatchers for the entire interstate system in Florida.

“It’ll help them have more information in making decisions on where and when to stop,” Frost said.

And as the information comes in, Frost said the system will eventually be able to demonstrate trends so drivers have an idea of what spots are generally more crowded at certain times.

“It will make it easier for them to comply with regulations and reduce the number of fatigued drivers out there,” Frost said.

Craig Toth, a consultant with civil engineering firm HNTB that is working with FDOT, said the parking information plan just received a $10 million grant that will help with statewide implementation.

He said Florida can become the first to use such a system statewide and hopes it will serve an example for all other states. There is support for making such information available throughout the entire interstate system.

“They’re really looking to use that as a standard,” Toth said. “If we can spread this, we can provide a lot of good data to commercial vehicles.”

Keller said she was glad to see FDOT’s commitment to improving driver safety, but it will only solve part of the problem. The scarcity of safe parking spots along the I-4 corridor and in South Florida must still be addressed, she said.

“I think it’s a wonderful program, and it needs to be done,” Keller said. “The application statewide is what makes it promising.

“It underscores the problem that there are not enough parking spots where we need them in the state.”

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