ST. LOUIS — (FloridaToday.news) — Big rig driver David Cherno was driving Jimmy Dean’s sausages down Interstate 70 when he had to stop for the night or he risked violating federal rules limiting truck driving time. The rest area in Illinois was packed, so Cherno parked on the wide shoulder of the exit leading to it, a common practice for truck drivers.
Just before 2 a.m. on Wednesday, Cherno woke up to a frightening jolt that threw him aside. He got out and saw the horror: a burning Greyhound bus squeezed into his trailer, passengers pushing and kicking windows, trying to get out.
As a result of an accident near St. Louis, three of the 22 passengers on the bus were killed and 14 others, including the driver, were injured. The National Transportation Safety Board is trying to determine what caused the bus to collide with three parked oil rigs and will look at factors such as driver fatigue. Investigators are also paying particular attention to the security threats posed by trucks parked on ramps.
“This is a serious problem,” said NTSB board member Tom Chapman.
There are an estimated 13 million trucks on US roads, and there are almost no overnight parking spaces in rest areas, truck stops, or elsewhere to accommodate them. Meanwhile, federal regulations require electronic monitoring that tracks the hours a driver has spent behind the wheel. Violation of Hours of Operation rules can result in fines, sometimes in the thousands of dollars.
As a result, truckers approaching their hourly limit are often forced to look for alternative places to sleep. Many choose exits from the highway, especially in recreation areas. The practice is illegal in Illinois and most states, but police often look the other way knowing the plight of truckers. Illinois State Police are also investigating the Greyhound crash, and it’s not clear if truckers parked near the exit could be fined.
Cherno told The Associated Press that he had hoped to get to Troy, Illinois, to stop on Tuesday night, but his allowed 11 hours on the road were running out.
“I was 15 minutes from Troy, but these ezines will disturb you if you drive 10 extra minutes to find a parking spot,” Cherno said.
Some trucking advocacy groups say electronic monitoring has created a situation that compromises safety.
“Drivers are running out of time on their watches and need to find a safe place to park their trucks, and in most cases, truck stops are overcrowded or they don’t have enough time to get to another location,” said Michael Boston, president of the National Association of Owners- operators with 35,000 members.
Colleen Long, director of government relations for the Independent Driver-Owner-Operators Association, said truckers are often faced with the need to park on a ramp or find a place off the highway that has its own hazards.
“We have had cases where drivers have been attacked, killed, robbed because they parked in inappropriate places,” Long said. “It puts them in a no-win situation.”
But others say the electronic monitoring has helped make roads safer by requiring truckers to rest. As much of a nuisance as this is to Black, he worries that the big trucking companies will use chauffeurs if the monitors are removed.
Executive director Zach Cahalan of the Truck Safety Coalition, which aims to reduce deaths and injuries from truck crashes, said that prior to electronic monitoring, paper logbooks were “commonly referred to in the industry as comics because they were fiction” and easy to falsify.
“Rules have always existed, and blaming the people who hold you accountable for the rules that keep you and other people safe is absurd,” Cahalan said.
However, according to estimates released in January by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the number of people killed in crashes involving heavy vehicles increased by 10% in the first half of 2022 compared to the previous year.
It is not known how many accidents in the country involve parked trucks. Studies in two states have found alarming numbers.
Last year, the California Department of Transportation released a study showing that between 2014 and 2018, there were 1,626 accidents involving parked trucks in the state, resulting in 131 deaths. A 2020 study by the Texas Department of Transportation found that 138 people died in 2,315 accidents involving parked trucks from 2013 to 2017.
The U.S. Department of Transportation statement acknowledges the lack of truck parking areas and says more than $70 million has been invested under President Joe Biden’s Truck Parking Infrastructure Act. Recent grants have included $22.9 million to Texas, $10.5 million to Louisiana, $15 million to Florida, and $22 million to Tennessee.
Republican Rep. Mike Bost of Illinois sponsored a bill that would provide $750 million over three years to build truck stops across the country.
In terms of electronic monitoring, Cherno would like truckers to be able to find safer parking, even if it means exceeding the time limit by a few minutes. Bost agreed.
“The reality is that we need to use common sense,” Bost said.
Hollingsworth reported from Mission, Kansas.
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