SUNDAY EDITION | Kentucky among states with ‘severe’ truck parking problems
A 2015 survey found a lack of spaces at rest areas and commercial trucks routinely stopped on the shoulders of freeways and ramps.
CYNTHIANA, Ky. (WDRB) -- It was a clear morning and shortly before 2 a.m. when Todd McCall’s truck drifted off Interstate 75 near Lexington.
Without slowing down, his Chevrolet S-10 pickup slammed into a tractor trailer whose driver had parked on the shoulder of the highway, crash records show.
McCall, 22, was killed. His family believes he fell asleep while driving home to Harrison County after visiting a friend in Berea in June 2013.
“It was one of those things that … until it happens to you, you just really don’t pay attention to,” said Michael McCall, Todd McCall’s father. “Since then I’ve seen so many trucks parked on the side of the road.”
Kentucky was among 17 states with the “most severe” truck parking problems, according to a survey last year by the U.S. Department of Transportation. It noted a lack of spaces at rest areas and commercial trucks routinely stopped on the shoulders of freeways and ramps.
And a 2015 University of Kentucky report concluded that truck drivers in the state “cannot easily determine available parking locations.” In all, 87 percent of the spaces researchers counted were full during overnight hours.
With truck traffic projected to increase, they recommended that stretches of Interstates 64, 65, 71 and 75 would benefit from more parking for large trucks. UK’s study found the crash rate for trucks rose – and wrecks were worse – in areas with few rest areas.
But besides a rest stop on I-64 in Clark County that shut down in 2009, two I-75 rest areas near Georgetown have temporarily closed for an interchange rebuilding project and are expected to reopen in the coming weeks.
In Hart County, a rest stop with more than 100 truck parking spaces next to I-65 closed suddenly last winter after a building caught on fire. The structure will be rebuilt and open as early as next spring, said Chris Jessie, spokesman for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.
UK researchers surveyed the rest area in 2014 and found that the truck spaces on average were 68 percent full. In one early-morning visit, 92 percent of the spaces were occupied.
Jessie said a nearby northbound rest area also is heavily used, and it’s not uncommon for a line of tractor trailers looking for parking to stretch to the interstate itself.
“Sometimes it creates another danger for motorists because it backs up so far,” he said.
Rules require rest
Truck drivers must rest after working for certain periods of time, according to federal rules meant to limit fatigue. A driver generally can’t log more than 11 hours on the road before taking 10 hours off.
Those limitations can leave drivers scrambling to find a place to park, said Michael Deaton, owner of 4-D Trucking in Harrison County, Ind., which hauls rail containers in the Louisville region.
He said some retailers and parking lot owners have cracked down on overnight parking, forcing drivers to stay the night on exit ramps and shoulders.
“The best way is to plan it in advance, but every once in a while something happens – a traffic jam, weather – and it puts you behind schedule,” he said.
The 2009 death of truck driver Jason Rivenburg brought new attention to truck parking issues. Rivenburg was murdered in South Carolina while spending the night at an abandoned gas station.
The 2012 federal transportation spending bill included “Jason’s Law,” which required a national survey of large truck parking and set aside funds for parking programs.
Kentucky and Indiana are among eight states sharing in a $25 million federal grant that seeks to help truckers find parking spaces on interstates and other freight corridors. The project plans to use smartphone apps, road signs and websites to share information about open sites.
Kentucky has roughly 7,800 truck parking spaces spread out among privately-owned truck stops and other facilities, 23 rest areas and four “rest havens” at weigh stations, according to the Transportation Cabinet.
Despite that, truckers often need places to stop, said Michael Garrett, owner of All Around Truck & Trailer in Shepherdsville. Garrett opens his lot, not far from I-65, to drivers who need to stay for a night.
Recently, he said, one of his mechanics was struck and injured while changing a tire on a semi that had broken down on the interstate.
“That right there shows you that semis parked on the side of the road is dangerous for everyone,” he said. “It’s not just dangerous for the truck drivers; it’s dangerous for the motorists.”
A 'bad epidemic'
Earlier this year, the Kentucky House passed a resolution encouraging businesses to help state officials reduce truck parking shortages and urging police to crack down on drivers who park illegally.
The measure was sponsored by Rep. Tom McKee, D-Cynthiana, who pushed for bills dubbed “Todd’s Law” in 2014 and 2015.
Named for Todd McCall, those bills would have let trucks pull over for up to 15 minutes without breaking state law. Except for emergencies, vehicles are prohibited from stopping on interstate shoulders in Kentucky.
Truck drivers who park illegally would have been subject to warnings and fines of up to $100, according to McKee’s legislation. The House passed the bills in 2014 and 2015, but they stalled in the Senate.
McKee, who is running for re-election, said he has no plans to file a new truck parking bill. Instead, he hopes state officials will consider re-opening shuttered rest areas and possibly adding more spaces.
“Those that are closed -- we need to get those open,” McKee said. “It’s supposed to be expensive to open them up, but how expensive is someone’s life? That’s what we’re talking about.”
The shortage of truck parking in the state is “a pretty bad epidemic,” said Sgt. Jason Morris of Kentucky State Police’s commercial vehicle enforcement division.
Morris acknowledged that under Kentucky law it is illegal for truckers to park on interstate shoulders. In general, he said officers will issue citations if a parked truck creates a safety hazard.
“We do enforce it when necessary, but we also have to fall back on common sense,” choosing sometimes not to cite truck drivers who are parked on ramps, he said.
'There's no excuses'
In Cynthiana, more than three years have passed since Todd McCall died.
Michael McCall keeps his son’s ashes in his wristwatch. A sticker urging support for “Todd’s Law” adorns the back of his van.
He said he still is frustrated that police sometimes don’t enforce the existing laws.
“They’re quick to write a ticket for speeding or, you know, reckless driving or something like that. To me, that’s careless – parking on the side of the road,” he said.
From time to time, he said, he gets phone calls from friends telling him about an illegally parked truck. His instinct is to stop and tell those drivers they’re breaking the law.
“All I care about is getting the trucks off the road, getting people off the road that don’t need to be parked on the side of the road, making it safer,” McCall said.
“I get tired of hearing excuses why they have to be parked on the side of the road. There’s no excuses.”
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