Sensors Help Truckers in Minnesota Find Safe Places to Rest

Technology rolled out Friday in Minnesota and seven other states aims to help truckers find parking by broadcasting the number of open spaces at rest areas.

by Tim Harlow, Star Tribune / January 9, 2019
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(TNS) — Quitting time is the most stressful part of day for Pat Wortham.

The over-the-road trucker from Stacy, Minn., said he is often racing the clock to find a safe and legal place to pull off the road and park before his driving time is up.

New technology rolled out Friday in Minnesota and seven other Midwestern states aims to help Wortham and other truckers find parking by broadcasting in real time the number spaces available at rest areas.

“This is a great idea,” said Wortham, who has driven for Eagan-based Dart Transit for the past 20 years. “It’s becoming more and more of an issue to find a place to park. Our jobs are stressful enough. Anything that states can do to alleviate frustration over where to park is appreciated.”

The number of parking spots available has not kept up with demand from a growing number of trucks on the road. Rest areas fill up early, and many times truckers spend more than an hour looking for safe parking, said Dan Rowe, manager of the Truck Parking Information Management System for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

In Minnesota, six rest areas have the new technology, including cameras taking regular pictures of the parking lots and sensors the size of hockey pucks embedded in the concrete of each parking spot. Those sensors beam data to dynamic road side signs that display the number of parking spaces available.

Truckers and dispatchers can also access MnDOT’s travel information site, 511mn.org, and the agency’s smartphone app to get current information, including the rest area parking lot photos. Starting in mid-January, the 511 system also will send e-mail and text notifications, Rowe said.

Minnesota joined Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin in participating in the nation’s first multistate truck parking information system. Other states may join in the near future.

The system was an outgrowth of a 2012 law that required the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to address the national long-term truck parking shortage. Surveys showed Minnesota was one of the states with the most severe truck parking challenges.

Under the federal law that dictates how long commercial drivers can be on the road, they can be on duty for 14 hours a day with a maximum of 11 hours behind the wheel. They also must have a 10-hour break before resuming work and are capped at a 70-hour workweek

The FHWA survey found that drivers who did not find parking at a rest area or truck stop by midafternoon or early evening opted for backup options, including shopping center parking lots or abandoned or isolated areas.

Wortham said when he can’t find a parking spot he’s resorted to illegally and unsafely stopping to rest on freeway shoulders or exit ramps. On a few occasions, he’s gone beyond his 11-hour driving limit by a few minutes to reach available parking, he said.

Wortham said he already saw the new parking alert system at work in Wisconsin and found it helpful. He said a sign showed one rest area had 35 spots and another further down the road had 75.

“I knew I could get another 40 miles,” he said.

John Hausladen, president of the Minnesota Trucking Association, said the system will help drivers plan their trips better. By knowing the parking situation ahead, “it reduces stress and increases efficiency,” he said.

“Truckers may park prematurely if they don’t know what’s available 30 to 60 minutes down the road,” he said. “We are excited about this.”

A $25 million grant from the federal government paid for a bulk of the project. Minnesota was awarded $1.2 million and chipped in an additional $177,500.

The system broadcasts parking information for rest areas on eastbound I-94 near Alexandria, Albany, Enfield and Maple Grove; southbound I-35 near Forest Lake and northbound I-35 near Northfield. The St. Croix rest area on westbound I-94 near Lakeland will be added in the spring.

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