OOIDA report: FHWA Rest Area Forum

by John Siebert
OOIDA Foundation Project Manager

Sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration, this much-anticipated forum was held in Atlanta at the end of June and featured broad-based representation from across the industry. OOIDA, American Trucking Associations (ATA), National Association of Truck Stop Operators (NATSO), state DOTs, state law enforcement, Parents Against Tired Truckers (PATT), carriers, and a healthy smattering of FHWA folks gathered to listen and take notes.

This meeting had previously been scheduled in conjunction with the ill-fated December 1998 Truck and Bus Safety Summit which was cancelled.Jim Johnston, OOIDA president, participated on the kick-off panel discussion, presenting the results of an OOIDA membership survey on the topic compiled by the OOIDA Foundation. Following the opening session, participants divided into four breakout sessions and discussed rest area problems and formulated recommended solutions for FHWA and states to implement. At the end of the meeting, those four groups presented their findings to the entire assembly.When ranking the importance of 17 rest area considerations, driver security was ranked number one by all four groups. Three of the groups favored eliminating all time restrictions for truck parking in rest areas. All four groups were unanimous in their suggestion that closed rest areas should be re-opened as quickly as possible. The groups also suggested that rest areas not be used as weigh stations and inspection sites if states seriously want to attract trucks to their facilities. New York state, for one, does not have dedicated weigh stations or inspection sites. They move portable equipment among their rest areas as a standard operational procedure. OK, now ready for the plain talk? NATSO, was out in full force. They maintained that since there is no correlation between highway deaths and lack of rest area parking, there is no nationwide shortfall of places for trucks to park. They also touted the results of an extremely non-scientific report done for them by Rita Bontz. Bontz reported that on the two nights she checked rest areas and truckstops in the Baltimore area, she found available parking spots. In fact, the word was that somebody simply called these truckstops and only drove out there once. Most groups soon tired of NATSO'sn absurd assertion that there was no problem, and pointed out their obvious conflict of interest.In the afternoon of the second day, Julie Cirillo, program director, Office of Motor Carriers and Highway Safety (OMCHS), conducted a "Town Meeting." After her initial comments, she opened it up to a brainstorming session."Secretary Slater has announced a goal of decreasing commercial trucks involved in highway deaths by 50 percent in the next 10 years," Cirillo said. "What steps can we take to reach that goal?"In the next 20 minutes, 60 action items were generated. Each participant voted for the top three most important items on that long list. The highest amount of votes went to the suggestion that to "regulate shippers and receivers in the trucking industry," which received 10 votes. The second place suggestion, at nine votes, was "require a standard minimum level of drivers' training for both truck and car drivers." Third, with eight votes, was "a reasonable speed limit set at the 85th percentile." (This was an inside joke since that was the recommendation of one of Cirillo's early research studies.) And, there were two fourth place items, with seven votes each: "Enforce the present speed limits on trucks and cars," and "Follow up on the recommendations of today's rest area forum."

Who knows? If we could really enact just these five items, maybe Slater's reduction of fatalities by 50 percent might well be obtainable.