PennDOT closure of rest areas disregards truckers’ safety, OOIDA says

March 17, 2020

Mark Schremmer

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OOIDA is asking the Department of Transportation to issue directives to states, law enforcement agencies and the logistics community to not close rest areas or impose other policies that could jeopardize the safety of truck drivers during a national emergency.

On Tuesday, March 17, the Association sent a letter to DOT Secretary Elaine Chao, FMCSA Acting Administrator Jim Mullen, and FHWA Administrator Nicole Nason in response to states, including Pennsylvania, that have announced or plan to announce the closure of rest areas to the public. OOIDA also sent emails to Pennsylvania lawmakers about the decision.

OOIDA said the closures send the wrong message to millions of truck drivers.

On March 16, PennDOT announced that all of its rest areas and welcome centers statewide would be closed to the public beginning at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, March 17. This was in addition to previously announced rest area closures in Montgomery, Delaware, Bucks and Chester counties.

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“We are extremely disappointed by policies like the closure of rest areas, which demonstrate a lack of understanding of truckers’ needs and a worrisome disregard for their personal safety among states,” OOIDA President and CEO Todd Spencer wrote to the DOT officials.

OOIDA also reached out to Pennsylvania lawmakers and officials.

“We understand this decision was likely made in an effort to limit passenger vehicle movement, interaction among travelers, and the state’s administration and supervision of these facilities during an emergency declaration,” wrote Collin Long, OOIDA’s director of government affairs. “However, rest areas are vitally important to truckers, who at this time are being heavily relied upon to transport critical supplies across the country.”

On March 14, FMCSA issued a national emergency declaration to provide hours-of-service regulatory relief to commercial vehicle drivers transporting emergency supplies in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

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‘Invaluable locations’

“For professional drivers, rest areas aren’t simply places to pick up SunChips and a Mountain Dew from a vending machine,” Long wrote. “They are invaluable locations to rest when fatigued. Rest areas are located at reliable intervals and locations for truckers, allowing them to minimize what may otherwise be a difficult, tedious and time-consuming search for parking.”

OOIDA said that closing rest areas while truckers are keeping America supplied with emergency supplies while the rest of the nation enters lockdown “creates a scenario in which their own personal safety seems less important than their productivity.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation told Land Line on Tuesday morning that it was having a meeting to discuss the decision to close the rest areas.

Mark Schremmer

Mark Schremmer, senior editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and nearly two decades of journalism experience to our staff.