St. Louis congressman pushes for expansion of truck driver rest areas

HIGHLAND, Ill. – A new trucking crisis has come to light as there are not enough places for truck drivers to park and rest, and as a result, some are dying.

There are new calls to address the issue more than seven months after the mass casualty crash at the Silver Lake rest area near Highland, IL, that left 3 dead and 14 injured.

The crash drew nationwide headlines and prompted a National Transportation Safety Board investigation.

While the NTSB’s final report on the crash could still be a year or longer away, those behind the wheel say they know what the issue is, know how to fix it, and want answers on what the hold-up is.

Kevin Neathery, of Indianapolis, has been driving trucks for 32 years. He stopped at the Silver Lake rest area Tuesday. He was headed for Oklahoma City.

Neathery logs his hours behind the wheel, as well as his federally mandated rest stops, through his computer tablet in his truck.

When drivers reach their 11-hour daily limit, they have to stop and rest. But in order to do that, they need to find somewhere to park.

“A truck stop will get full at 7:00 in the evening,” Neathery said. “There are ramps in different places across the country (where) I’ve seen just a whole ramp full: five to 10 trucks on the ramp on both sides.”

This was the case at the time of the Silver Lake crash, around 1:50 a.m. on July 12, 2023.

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With something as simple as parking at a crisis point, the trucking industry continues to turn to Congress.

“We have 313,000 parking spaces and 3.5 million drivers. So, the shortage is real in every single state,” Brenda Neville of the Iowa Motor Truck Association told a U.S. Senate Committee in November. “The option truck drivers have now is if they can’t find a space, they’re parking on the side of the road. They’re parking on an off ramp and tragically, we hear about things like what happened in Illinois.”

NTSB investigators immediately pointed to a lack of parking as a contributing factor.

Republican Congressman Mike Bost, who represents a large part of the St. Louis area in Illinois, said it’s way past time for Congress to act on his Truck Parking Safety Improvement Act, which would earmark $755 million over three years for a nationwide expansion in truck parking.

Democrat Senator Mark Kelly of Arizona is sponsoring companion legislation in the Senate.

Bost says issues for truckers become issues for everyone else.

“You have someone who’s not a professional driver that’s been driving from a long distance. All of the sudden, they start falling asleep. They don’t run off through a field; they run underneath a truck,” Bost said. “That’s why we’ve got to get it straightened out. We know what the fix is.”

Seven months after the crash, nothing’s changed at the Silver Lake rest area.

“I don’t like saying it this way because it’s really sad to put it (like this),” Neathery said. “I always figure the right person has to be killed for somebody to do something about it.”

And Bost fears Neathery may be right.

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