The Maryland State Police recently announced that starting last week, officers would implement a zero-tolerance policy and issue tickets to truck drivers who park on the shoulders of I-83. The announcement stated that commercial drivers should plan in advance where they want to park when they need a break — saying parking on the shoulder leads to "extremely dangerous conditions."
These actions reveal a misunderstanding of why truck drivers are parked on the shoulders of roadways. Simply put, there is insufficient truck parking in Maryland and around the country. This problem is growing.
The Baltimore metropolitan region, and specifically the Northeast Corridor, has seen unparalleled growth in truck traffic over the past 20 years, and truck traffic is expected to continue to increase. In the next 25 years, the travel model of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council forecasts a more than 30 percent increase in truck vehicle trips. This growth in commercial traffic, together with restrictions on the amount of time drivers can spend behind the wheel, creates a growing demand for truck parking facilities throughout the country — and particularly in densely populated areas such as the Baltimore region.
Drivers park on the I-83 shoulders not because they want to but because they have to, since there are no truck parking facilities along I-83 in Baltimore County. To expect that this parking shortage can be overcome by "urging truck drivers to pre-plan for safe parking" ignores the challenges that professional drivers face. These include continued reductions in the driving hours allowed under federal law, as well as unpredictable delays caused by traffic congestion, weather, or excessive wait times while loading or unloading. These delays cannot be anticipated and are outside of a truck driver's control.
Truck parking is like an air mattress. When you push down on one side, it pops up on the other. Only time will tell where those displaced trucks will park next.
Parking on the shoulder of a busy highway does create a dangerous situation, but the alternative of forcing a fatigued trucker to continue driving because he cannot find a parking place is much worse. Issuing citations to these professional truck drivers will only force them to either continue to park on the I-83 shoulders so they can rest when tired (while paying the citation); or remain on the highway while looking for new locations that will likely be inappropriate for truck parking.
Without trucks, Maryland stops. Truck drivers are the backbone of our state's economy. Every day, truck drivers deliver 400,000 tons of essential goods, such as clothing, medicine, electronics, fuel and food. More than 93 percent of all Maryland communities depend exclusively on trucks for freight, making us one of the most truck-dependent states in the country.
Those drivers who are trying to safely and efficiently deliver the state's goods don't deserve a citation for pulling off when needing a rest. They deserve our thanks.
Louis Campion is president of the Maryland Motor Truck Association. His email is email@example.com.