Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Safe truck parking: What’s it going to take?

In the wake of another senseless murder of a professional truck driver, one critical question remains: What’s it going to take to make safe truck parking a top priority in the supply chain?

Over the years, I have interviewed grieving families who have lost loved ones simply because they arrived too early at their delivery sites and were turned away, only to be robbed and murdered because there were no safe parking spots available.

Many of the facilities, whose financial success depends on the freight the truck drivers are hauling, have systems in place that seem to penalize drivers for being dependable and arriving early. While these facilities have well-lit, gated lots, often truck drivers are not allowed to park inside these safe havens and must arrive one hour before their appointment times. Forced to seek parking elsewhere, they pay with their lives.

It took nearly two weeks, including calls and emails, for a Detroit steel plant to disclose its truck parking policy. A truck driver was murdered and his rig set on fire after he parked in a desolate parking lot 200 feet from its gated facility. Detroit firefighters found the body of Michael Boeglin, 30, of Ferdinand, Ind., dead in his truck around 2:30 a.m. on Thursday, June 26, outside the ThyssenKrupp Steel Plant where he was scheduled to deliver that morning.

The company’s security policy for deliveries to the facility is “Monday through Friday, between the hours of 7 a.m. and 6 p.m., by appointment, to be sure adequate staff and security personnel are available to ensure shipments arrive and depart safely.”

The steel plant states that it supplies its carriers with a website for alternative suggestions for fueling and parking, but the list is incomplete. Only seven fueling stations are listed in the Detroit area, including two mini-marts with no truck parking. The other five places have a total of 123 truck parking spaces.

As some states desperately seek ways to balance their budgets, valuable truck parking spots at rest areas have been closed or are on the chopping block as a way to save on maintenance expenses. The drivers then find themselves random targets of violent crimes after they seek parking in unsafe places.

Until Jason’s Law was passed, some of the state’s transportation department officials questioned why it is was their “responsibility” to provide safe and secure parking options for truckers and why shippers and receivers aren’t also held accountable for providing truck parking.

I first spoke with Hope Rivenburg in 2009 not long after her husband, Jason, was murdered while parked in an abandoned gas station in South Carolina. He arrived too early with his load of milk and was turned away. He was killed for $7.

Since that time, Hope has made sure Jason’s legacy has not been forgotten. Jason’s Law was included in the current highway law known as Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century – or MAP-21. The provision directs the Federal Highway Administration to conduct a study to evaluate the capability of states to provide adequate parking, assess commercial vehicle traffic and to develop a system to measure the adequacy of parking. That survey is currently underway, but the process isn’t swift enough for the families of slain truck drivers.

The mother of a truck driver who was murdered more than three years ago is still waiting for answers after her son, Truman Lee Smith, 40, of Irondale, Mo., was fatally shot during an apparent robbery while waiting to unload at a food warehouse in East St. Louis, Ill. A mere 21 cents was found in his pockets. His murder remains unsolved.

How many more hard-working truck drivers have to die before efforts are increased to change truck parking policies or build additional truck parking places to keep them safe?