Washington Insider
‘Let them eat cake’

By Laura O-Neill, OOIDA Director of Government Affairs

“Let them eat cake” is a famous quotation in Western civilization, often attributed to Queen Marie Antoinette during a great famine in France under the reign of her husband King Louis XVI. The quote, regardless of the historical accuracy, is often raised in modern times to illustrate when a political leader has grown out of touch with a suffering constituency.

As the legend goes, the queen, when informed that the public had no bread to eat, suggested that the people could eat cake.

We certainly have a trucking constituency suffering right now and in need of more (and improved) parking conditions. I am certain that if the Secretary of Transportation misses the opportunity to craft policy that will give truckers the parking they need, that failure will serve as a profound statement that the DOT is completely out of touch with the needs of a struggling work force.

So often on Capitol Hill, we at OOIDA are greeted with safety arguments from lawmakers who fail to recognize the biggest obstacles in trucking that have the most significant effect on highway safety. Along with compensation and the compounded pressure that is heaped upon drivers in terms of time constraints, we work to keep the focus on investing in a safe and easily accessible place for truckers to park.

Safe truck parking – and more of it – is an area where great progress was made when Congress included Jason’s Law in MAP-21, our new highway law.

Jason’s Law, as many already know, was a bill introduced in Congress after the tragic death of driver Jason Rivenburg. He was robbed and murdered in his cab when his truck was parked in an abandoned parking lot. This tragedy underscored the concerns of every driver as well as the fears of their families.

In the past few years as our federal and local governments have faced fiscal crisis, the question of where a driver can find a place to park where he/she will be safe has become even more dire. In fact, it’s become “where can I simply park?”

The shortage of parking has been dramatically rising for years; meanwhile, the pressure for drivers to not drive while fatigued mounts as well.

Jason’s Law, if enacted properly, will go a long way to make significant change and address the parking shortage. In the language, Congress specifically states that “eligible projects” under the section must address the shortage of longer term trucking for commercial motor vehicles for the purposes of promoting safety. Eligible projects, to name just a few, include improvements to existing rest stops, constructing turnouts, and changing seasonal facilities into year-round facilities.

As a side note, there is also a provision in the language that allows states to put money dedicated for this purpose toward electronic signage. In essence, this money that is supposed to be used to build parking may be used instead to tell drivers that there is no parking. If the DOT allows such nonsense to occur, it would be a travesty.

The DOT, under the language of Jason’s Law, is required to work with states to help enact these priorities. This all sounds grand; however, there is a possibility that DOT might not prioritize this issue. And one way it could happen is if truckers suffer in silence regarding the desperate need for more safe parking spots and if DOT does not place the right importance on the situation.

I have clear visions of Marie Antoinette being invoked, in that Congress and the people have pointed out to the Secretary, “Monsieur, the drivers need to rest.” By failing to take control of the language, Monsieur Secretary will have said, “Well, let them get a hotel room.” LL