Background of Jason's Law
After arriving to his job an hour early, a truck driver was murdered while waiting to make a delivery. The death of Truman Lee Smith in February was a tragedy, perhaps one that could have been prevented.
Nearly two years prior, the transportation community mourned the loss of another trucker. After arriving ahead of schedule, the driver pulled over to an abandoned gas station to wait for the prearranged delivery time. As he rested in his cab, he was fatally shot and robbed of seven dollars.
Jason Rivenburg's untimely death became emblematic of a long-recognized need for more rest areas. His widow, Hope – Jason left behind a toddler and a wife who was pregnant with twins – now advocates for safer parking facilities for professional truck drivers. This U.S. federal legislation is known as Jason's Law.
What is Jason's Law?
Jason's Law refers to two bills. H.R. 1803 was introduced by Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) on May 10, and S. 1187 was introduced by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) on June 13. Both the House and Senate versions of the Jason's Law bills focus on awarding funds to maintain current rest areas and to construct new ones where needed.
Sources of funding differentiate 2011's bills from their 2009 versions (H.R. 2156 and S. 971). The 2009 bills proposed to be funded by the Highway Trust Fund. Now presented as amendments to SAFETEA-LU, Jason's Law would be funded by the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ).
Could Jason's Law supplement transportation regulations?
Debating Jason's Law could change the conversation about how to best improve motor carrier safety. "If we're going to have the requirement out there by the federal government that there be a rest period after every 11 hours of driving, then let's make certain that the availability of safe parking areas is the outcome," said Rep. Tonko in recent episode of the podcast Truth About Trucking "Live" (31:56).
One of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s most controversial potential changes to hours of service (HOS) would be to limit truckers to 10 hours of driving time per shift. (Since 2003, the limit has been 11 hours.) Consequences for businesses could be dramatic. For example, the president of Con-Way Truckload claimed the company would need for a 4-5% larger fleet to transport the same amount of freight within 10-hour limits.
Of course, safety is not an either/or proposition. Even if driving hours were changed from 11 to 10 hours, truckers would continue to need safe places to sleep. However, a reduction in hours would likely put more drivers on the road, which would put an even greater strain on the existing number of rest areas.
Sleep as a safety concern
It's possible that Jason's Law, which would fund adequate parking areas for states, cities and other local governments, could reduce the need to revise FMCSA hours of service. With more parking spots available, truckers are less likely to waste driving time trying to find suitable places to rest. Drivers may also sleep more soundly knowing that they don't need to resort to dangerous / illegal parking along the sides of roads or highways.
According to a sleep study called "The Sleep of Long-Haul Truck Drivers," truckers on a 10-hour drive schedule averaged 5.38 hours of sleep daily while truckers on a 13-hour drive schedule averaged 3.83 hours of sleep daily. (Note: Daily start time could be a contributing factor in the difference of sleep times for the two groups.) It is clear that professional truck drivers do not get enough sleep, and Jason's Law would provide more reliable opportunities for undisturbed rest.
Having more truck stops would also present safer opportunities for driving breaks throughout. The DOT / FMCSA study "Hours of Service and Driver Fatigue: Driver Characteristics Research" shows that a driver is 32% less likely to crash when taking two breaks per shift (4.1.7).
Does Jason's Law have momentum?
Truckers have a strong online presence on blogs, Twitter, YouTube and more, and this continues to present individual networking potential. Major industry groups such as the American Trucking Associations (ATA) and Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) also support the bills.
During the aforementioned podcast, co-host Donna Smith discussed the great support for Jason's Law in 2010, including several national call-in days. She said that the Congressional elections and funding had been obstacles but remained hopeful for the current legislation: "It's kind of like starting from scratch, but not really, because I think the awareness is out there" (15:57). In the same episode, Hope Rivenburg announced that the next national call-in day will be Thursday, June 23. According to Rep. Tonko, the legislation is not just for truck drivers. "It also speaks to public safety on our highways, and that affects everybody," said Tonko (31:20).
How many commercial parking facilities are currently open?
Statistics are limited. One example of such data is this survey of public rest stops, but the exclusion of privately owned facilities offers limited accuracy regarding capacity (as does the study's age – it was published in 2002). H.R. 1803 hopes to track progress by creating an annual survey of commercial motor vehicle parking to be made available online.
Perhaps the best sample of recent data is the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council's Multi-State Truck Stop Inventory and Assessment Study. The survey covers the New York City metropolitan area, northern New Jersey and the entire state of Connecticut. This data is covered in the infographic below (click for full-size).
Could Jason's Law deliver the answer to a national trucking safety crisis?
"Could Jason's Law deliver the answer to a national trucking safety crisis?" infographic is available on Flickr for reuse on the Web and in print. Please attribute and link back to this post.
Special thanks to Clinton B. Britt from Rep. Paul Tonko's staff for helping provide research data.