Study supports rest areas to reduce fatigue-related crashes

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 2/21/2014

A study in Michigan puts a real value on how public rest areas affect highway safety and reduce fatigue-related crashes. The results may seem obvious to truckers who use rest areas to comply with hours-of-service regulations, but the study breaks ground by putting real numbers to questions about crashes, economic impact and public value.

The Michigan Department of Transportation commissioned Wayne State University in Detroit to do the study and present findings to the Transportation Research Board.

Wayne State researchers analyzed specific crash reports marked by law enforcement as “fatigue-related” within 20 miles of more than two-dozen rural rest areas along interstates and two-lane highways.

Associate Professor Peter Savolainen of Wayne State’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering says researchers were surprised at the consistency they found.

“What we attempted to do was examine how crash trends change with respect to where rest areas are located,” Savolainen told Land Line.

“Crash risk tended to be lowest right near the rest area, and it tended to be highest as you got 20 miles away from it in either direction. Some of that was interesting and we didn’t necessarily think we’d see that trend,” he said.

Savolainen notes that the designation of “fatigue-related” crashes comes from the “driver condition” category on Michigan crash reports. Those are filled out at the discretion of the investigating officer.

“Any research in these areas tends to be under-reported,” Savolainen said, referencing National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that not all fatigue-related reports are categorized as such.

Wayne State attempted to further narrow their criteria by studying a window of 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

What the study does not attempt to do is separate cars and trucks or single out a particular highway user group.

Savolainen says three or four of the rest areas were closed for a while during the five-year period of data used for the study, 2006 through 2010.

“During those closure periods, there tended to slightly higher crashes as well, so I think that provides further evidence that there’s some benefit there,” he said. “If the rest area was closed, there was an increase in crashes.”

Money talks
The study notes that at least 14 states have closed or are in the process of closing rest areas as a way to save money. The Wayne State study may have them thinking twice.

The Federal Highway Administration estimates the cost of an average lane-departure crash at $110,672.

“Based on the results of this study, it was estimated that Michigan’s (81) roadside rest areas and Welcome Centers result in a cost savings of approximately $15.2 million per year,” the study shows.

“Furthermore, when considering the non-Welcome Center rest area facilities, the safety benefits are greater than the annualized costs (of operation and maintenance of the facilities),” the study shows.

Why it matters
OOIDA supports safe and secure truck parking as a national priority. Truckers need places to take breaks and comply with HOS requirements.

There’s more to safe parking than preventing fatigue-related crashes.

The Association and its members have their weight behind “Jason’s Law” to address the shortage of long-term parking on the National Highway System. Congress included a “Jason’s Law” provision in the 2012 highway authorization law known as MAP-21.

“Jason’s Law” is named after Jason Rivenburg who was turned away from a delivery point and parked his truck for the night at an abandoned gas station in March 2009. He was shot and killed during a robbery.

His widow, Hope Rivenburg, continues to fight for more safe truck parking. A survey she put together in 2013 garnered nearly 4,000 responses from truckers. It identified shortages by region and city, showing Atlanta, Baltimore, Bentonville, Ark., Boston and Charlotte, N.C., as the top five cities needing improvement.

MAP-21 directed the Federal Highway Administration to conduct a formal federal survey of truck parking, and OOIDA submitted comments in late 2013 on that effort.

A portion of the Wayne State University study on rest areas also deals with public opinion. Researchers surveyed 2,800 people at Michigan public rest areas and another 650 at privately owned facilities such as truck stops and fueling stations.

Savolainen says those results are not yet public, but he did share some general information.

“Generally, people chose the rest area because it had quicker access,” he said. “Roughly a third said parking availability – so that would presumably be a lot of the truck drivers specifically, and a third cited cleanliness of the facility, safety and security, and convenience when traveling with children and pets. … As you would expect, the main purposes were to use the rest rooms or to take a nap.”

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