Safe Parking: Will Jason’s Law Fix the Truck Parking Situation?

By Vicki Simons

Click here for an update to this article...Let’s focus on the issue of safe parking for professional truck drivers in the USA.

June 23, 2011 was the day designated as the National Call-in Day for “Jason’s Law,” named after Jason Rivenburg, the New York truck driver who was killed in our home state of South Carolina.

This event is a black mark on our state and my husband Mike and I are grieved that anyone, trucker or not, is murdered. (By way of background, Mike and I both earned our CDLs and together we have almost 20 years of commercial truck driving experience, Mike having significantly more experience than I have.)

However, what will Jason’s Law, H.R. 1803, do for truckers?

Let’s look at some points that seem to have been overlooked or not considered heretofore:

  • Was it government’s fault that Jason died? No, it was his murderer’s fault.
  • Will it be government’s fault if another trucker dies while being parked? It’s possible.
  • Can government prevent another trucker from dying? Not at all.

Safe Parking: Government’s Responsibility?

In all honesty, since when did it become government’s responsibility to try to protect or otherwise provide safe parking for large trucks (whether through rest areas, service areas, parking areas or commercial truck stops)?

Building truck parking is best left to private businesses who are better able to meet truckers’ needs than government can.

Jason’s Law in the U.S. House of Representatives is H.R. 1803. (The companion bill in the U.S. Senate is S. 1187.)

I’ll focus on the House bill. The language enables what is known as public-private partnerships.

Here’s a key quote from the legislation:

“A State, metropolitan planning organization, or local government may partner with a private sector entity if the application for funding is consistent with eligibility requirements set forth in paragraph 3 of this subsection and consistent with section 111(a) of title 23, United States Code.”

It also allows for “Maintaining existing facilities if appropriate.”

OK, let’s unpack that.

If a private business built a truck stop for safe parking on its own, it wouldn’t need a public-private partnership.

However, once a public-private partnership with a government entity is established for truck parking, then government has just gotten involved with a truck stop (any place a truck stops).

Please note, too, that the legislation does not limit the kind or size of truck parking facility whatsoever.

Until the law changes to allow privatization, rest areas, service areas and parking areas along interstates and other roads do not fall under the public-private partnership category because they are totally paid for by the government.

Please also note that current use of rest areas does not mean that a person endorses Jason’s Law.

There is a difference between the funding of the two types of facilities.

Speaking of funding, let’s look at that…

Safe Parking: A Realistic Look at Funding

The trend as more and more states cut their budgets is to close rest areas.

An article in The Wall Street Journal details this trend.

Closing rest areas reduces the availability of truck parking.

So, why aren’t more truck stops being built near metropolitan and traffic-dense areas like along I-95 in the northeastern USA?

I believe that government regulation often prevents them from being built.

I’ll get to that below, but back to the funding issue…

Assuming for a brief moment that Jason’s Law is passed, where will the truck parking areas be built?

If the public-private partnerships that Jason’s Law permits allows the private sector to build in these places, why not allow the businesses to finance the entire facility?

You may want to do a bit of research on the problems associated with public-private partnerships to better understand what this legislation can potentially bring with it.

For now, look at some recent articles and determine which government entities are likely to help fund additional truck parking:

If certain states and municipalities are in budgetary crisis, are cutting back in their budgets, or are financially broke, then they have no intention of putting taxpayer dollars toward the establishment or expansion of truck parking.

Hence, there will be no public-private partnerships coming from them and Jason’s Law as far as they are concerned is a moot point.

The law becomes merely “feel-good” legislation that takes supporters for fools.

Taking one giant step backward for perspective, where in the U.S. Constitution is authorization for Congress to fund rest areas or truck stops? Assuming that the funding for the truck parking areas described in Jason’s Law falls on the states or other government entities, how many will be able to kick in a part of the money?

Safe Parking: Government Protection?

Can government protect truckers at rest areas or truck stops built after Jason’s Law is passed?

To answer that question, one must consider the track record.

Have you ever Googled phrases like

  • “stabbed at rest area”,
  • “killed at rest area” or
  • the more specific “trucker killed at ‘rest area'”?

The results are shocking.

If parking areas are built, then protection can only be guaranteed or enhanced by some form of ongoing security.

In other words, when government gets its foot in the door, the control will not stop but will likely increase.

This is “mission creep.”

Private business is far better able to provide security for their lots than government.

Do people get killed at commercial truck stops?

Yes, but very rarely.

Safe Parking: Government, Please Protect Us!

Why have we allowed ourselves to become so conditioned so as to think that no matter what the problem, we can turn to government to protect us?

Is this not “nanny state” thinking?

Jason Rivenburg’s murderer was looking for someone to steal from.

He was looking for an easy target.

It could have been anyone, whether a trucker or not.

Other truckers have been killed at rest stops in the past.

Here are just two examples:

And no one can say that more truckers won’t be killed in the future.

Every murder is a tragedy but government cannot prevent it.

Murder is against the law but it takes place every day.

People get murdered in hotel rooms, so using the same logic as some people are using regarding Jason’s Law, should government allow for public-private partnerships to build hotels? (No!)

Once government gets its foot in the door on the issue of safe parking for large trucks, the likely outcome is that the taxpayers will pay more than they should and liberty will be reduced.

What needs to be reduced and eliminated is the government regulation that prevents private businesses from building commercial truck stops where they are most needed.

How many situations regarding “protection” has government gotten involved in — that it had no business being involved in — where the problems that they tried to solve got only bigger or worse?

Why should taxpayers fund (in part or in full) what has worked most successfully in the past: privately built and monitored truck parking?

Safe Parking: Current Prohibitions

Let’s get real about safe parking for large trucks: some places already forbid overnight parking for commercial motor vehicles in publicly built lots where there is plenty of room.

Our neighboring state of Georgia is a classic example.

Check out the signs along I-75.

We’ve even seen a time limit on truck parking at a rest area in South Carolina.

So are we going to press for more places like this?

Safe Parking: Our Experience

Someone reading this may feel that I don’t understand the nature of the truck parking problem.

So I will relate two of our personal experiences, both of which happened when Mike was driving his company-issued truck and I was riding with him as his passenger.

  1. Our first experience is brief: Coming out of the northeastern USA one evening, we wanted to stop for dinner but could not because there was nowhere to park. Mike drove through New Jersey and most of the way through Pennsylvania — finally finding truck parking at the seventh (yes, 7th) place where we tried to find it — just before his Hours of Service ran out. We weren’t able to eat dinner until after 11 p.m. that night.
  2. Our second experience is about the worst night’s “sleep” I ever got, which was in Milford, Connecticut. We had to stop because Mike was near the end of his Hours of Service. On I-95 at exit 40, there are two commercial truck stops, a Pilot and the Secondi Brothers. We noticed that there was a long line of trucks waiting to get into the Pilot, so we knew there was no room to park there.Mike circled the Secondi Brothers’ lot twice, looking for anything even close to a safe and legal parking space. There was absolutely nothing. Drivers who had arrived before us had used every available space. It was good that they were able to park. Unfortunately, we could not. We do not know how many other drivers tried to find parking at one of those two commercial truck stops that night, but could not.Mike took his chances by traveling just north to the service area. Nothing was guaranteed about parking there either. Even if a space for a large truck was available, it might not have been something he could get his rig into. We were blessed to find an open spot that was easily accessible.However, during the night, Mike’s truck got knocked on 5 times. For safety reasons, we never answered the knocks. It could have been a lot lizard looking for business or a panhandler looking for money, who knows. Mike was able to get a little sleep, but I was jarred awake (even while wearing the ear plugs that I routinely use when I sleep) every time someone knocked. It was very nerve wracking. If someone had been intent on doing us harm at that service area, he or she could very easily have done so.It must be remembered that “safe parking” for trucks may not necessarily mean the driver gets good restorative sleep while he or she is parked. That, too, is a problem.

Safe Parking: Conclusion About Jason’s Law

Am I in favor of more safe parking for commercial motor vehicles? Absolutely!

I fully understand the need.

But am I in favor of Jason’s Law? Absolutely not!

Government-funded truck parking is no guarantee of safety or a good night’s sleep.

Allowing government on any level to enter the truck parking arena beyond what has already been established is going to open the door for a multitude of problems beyond even my imagination.

Will the passage of Jason’s Law really be the panacea that truckers need? I am certain that it will not be.

In fact, I predict that the government regulations that are in place in some locations where truck parking is most needed will not automatically be relaxed if Jason’s Law is passed, but rather the process of reviewing and revising these regulations may turn into a battleground of indefinite length.

Just because the process may be long, however, does not mean that the effort should not be expended.

What needs to happen is that government needs to reduce or eliminate the regulations and prohibitions that prevent private business from building commercial truck stops in the places where they are most needed.

That is the solution to more safe parking for large trucks, not government involvement.

Safe Parking Article Update

The point and question that may arise after reading the preceding is:

“All truckers need are safe places to park. We may not need all the amenities of full-fledged commercial truck stops at night. Why won’t private businesses invest in parking areas?”

The answer to that should be self-evident, but I’ll put it in the form of a question:

“Are private businesses ‘in business’ to make money or lose money?”

The answer, of course, is that private business is in business to make money (or to earn a return on their investment).

All of the truck parking areas we’ve seen have no means by which private business can make money.

Why would business interests pump money into truck parking if they cannot earn anything back out of it?

Now, the point can also be made that some wealthy philanthropist may decide to donate money toward the building of safe parking areas for truckers.

The problem with this scenario is that the donation may be a one-time-only deal and there may be no money for ongoing maintenance.

If nothing else, the surface of the truck parking area would need to be maintained.

And there is the same matter of security as was raised above: who will pay to keep the safe parking areas truly safe?

It is still better for private businesses to meet the needs of truckers for truck parking than relying on taxpayer dollars or hoping for private donations.

[Another update appears below.]

Safe Parking Article Update 2

As evidence from the closure of rest areas in Minnesota when the state government shut down, what the government “gives,” the government can take away.

I put “gives” in quotes for a reason, because no government on any level “gives” anything that it does not first “take” from someone else (usually in the form of taxes).

Please think about that.

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