Message Signs, Parking and Rest Areas

The FMCSA and our illustrious federal government would like to notify us of how many parking spaces are available at any given time at our nations rest areas! Wow, really? I am impressed, NOT! I read an interesting article the other day published by Reed Black, a staff writer for Land Line Magazine. He quoted the FMCSA recently awarded a contract worth nearly $400,000 to the Boston-based technology company Foster-Miller to start researching the idea”. He went on to say that the basic concept was to place message signs 50 miles and 1 mile from a given rest area to alert truckers to the number of available parking spaces at that particular time in that rest area.

I am not sure how new this idea is or how many studies are being performed on the subject, but the following link will take you to the official FMCSA site and show you the results of the last study on the subject in 2005. I am impressed by the thoroughness of the report, remember, taxpayers payed over $400,000 dollars for this report! Once again, my sarcasm is leaking through. Are you kidding me? Almost 1/2 of a million dollars to study the feasibility of placing message signs at all 1800 of our nations rest areas?

I am certainly not a rocket scientist, but I can see “holes” all the way through this brilliant idea. We can’t even prevent our bridges from collapsing, but we can surely alert the truck driver of how many parking spaces are in a rest area over an hour away. To install such a “high tech” system, FMCSA states that cameras, sensors and other monitoring devices would need to be installed to detect a parked vehicle. They don’t even mention the cost and expense of hiring and training “professional” parking camera technicians. Who will count the available parking spaces? How many technicians are needed to install, maintain and repair these electronic monitoring devices? Would these sensors work in inclimate weather? Would they work under an inch of snow or ice? How much would it cost to reinstall the equipment every 2-3 years when the parking area was repaved?

I thought about these questions and a couple of dozen others while driving the other day. It didn’t take a $400,000 dollar study for me to realize that this idea probably ranks up there with the “Bridge to Nowhere” in Alaska. Sure it would be nice to know how full a particular parking area might be, but from experience, I know that after 6 PM on the west coast, most rest areas and truck stops are already full.

The sensor idea might not be a bad idea though. If you tied a parking information system into the state 511 traveler information phone number, a trucker could call and find out the status of a particular rest area or parking area. But the idea of a message board 50 miles from a given rest area just doesn’t make sense to me. I think that idea would actually hurt drivers and could be dangerous if not used properly. For instance, a driver sees a message board alerting him or her to the number of parking spaces in a rest area. The driver thinks that he is alright to drive a few extra miles over his 11 hour limit to get to that rest area with available parking. When that driver arrives at the rest area, he or she finds that all the parking spaces are full and they are unable to park safely at that rest area. What happens then? The driver must then proceed to another rest area or truck stop which might be several miles down the road. I wonder if anyone thought of the liability this might cause? I see lawsuits and wrongful death and injury cases by the dozen.

I wonder what would really happen if the FMCSA actually did an official survey with professional truck drivers and got their ideas about improving the system? When was the last time you saw a representative from DOT or FMCSA at your local truck stop? My point exactly, It doesn’t happen! Maybe the government officials should ask the professional driver about our ideas or thoughts on what would make our lives on the road a little easier. Hey, theres an idea!

I’d gladly accept a $400,000 dollar donation from the FMCSA for my thoughts and ideas! Actually, lets pave our highways and fix our bridges. I could care less about the number of parking spaces available in our rest areas.

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