It was nearly midnight when Richard Marsh pulled his green 18-wheel Peterbilt tractor-trailer into the public rest area off Interstate 64 near Charlottesville. He was tired and nearing the 10-hour daily driving limit set by the federal government for commercial truckers.
Marsh parked his rig in the only open space, settled into the sleeping compartment in his cab, watched a little television and fell into a deep slumber.
Four hours later, he was roused by a state trooper shining a flashlight into his bleary eyes. The trooper told Marsh that he had to leave. "I said, 'You got to be kidding me. I'm too fatigued to drive. I could fall asleep at the wheel,' " Marsh recalled.
Marsh told the trooper that federal law required him to take an eight-hour break after 10 hours of driving. But the trooper was unmoved. He was enforcing a Virginia law that says cars and trucks can stay no more than two hours at the state's 41 rest areas. The trooper issued a $60 ticket to Marsh and 15 other truck drivers and a motor home operator before ordering them all back on the road into the dark night, Marsh said.
Marsh and other truckers say his early-morning eviction is part of a dangerous, national problem: a shortage of rest areas for truckers.
With the number of commercial truck drivers rising, driver fatigue and the shortage of rest stops are also a growing concern among highway safety advocates.
Truckers like the public rest areas because they usually are located along major highways. They shy away from motels because the parking lots often can't accommodate big rigs. Drivers like Marsh also feel uneasy about leaving a fully loaded truck unattended overnight, and they don't like to absorb the cost of a motel room or be forced to detour from the highway in a business where time is money.
A 1996 study performed by the trucking industry and funded by the federal government said the country has 24,697 public rest spaces set aside for trucks but needs an additional 28,412 spaces to meet current demand. That deficit will grow to 36,264 spaces by 2000, the study projected.
Truckers say the shortage is exacerbated by states like Virginia that strictly enforce a two-hour parking limit.
Cyndi Ward, an official at the Virginia Department of Transportation, said the state is looking at its supply of rest areas and will add spaces where needed. But parking will continue to be limited to two hours, she said.
"The two-hour time limit was set so that everyone has an opportunity to use the rest area for the purpose it was intended for--brief stops," said Lt. Herbert Bridges, who runs the Virginia State Police office of motor carrier safety. "They were never meant to be, never designed to be for overnight sleeping."
Keeping cars and trucks moving through rest areas helps reduce problems of drugs, prostitution and vandalism, Bridges said.
About 42 percent of public rest areas nationwide have time limits or bans on overnight parking, but in most places the restrictions are rarely enforced, according to the 1996 study funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Virginia's policy has made the state a target of Parents Against Tired Truckers, a nonprofit organization based in Maine that has become a vocal advocate for more rest areas and unlimited parking for truckers.
"We called the Virginia State Police, the governor and secretary of transportation and we haven't gotten anywhere at all," said Daphne Izer, the group's co-founder, whose teenage son was killed five years ago by a truck driver she suspects was drowsy.
"This is one of our top issues," Izer said, referring to time limits at rest areas. "We want tired truckers off the road. For police to awaken them, give them tickets and tell them to move on is wrong."
Across the river from Virginia, Maryland has no time limits on its public rest areas. "We wouldn't interfere with their rest," Maryland State Police spokesman Pete Piringer said. "We encourage people to rest. Unless there is some illegal activity or a complaint of some sort, we leave them be."
Maryland has 10 public rest areas and recently opened 20 park-and-ride lots to truckers for overnight parking only. In addition, the state is allowing truckers to park in weigh stations when the stations are not in use, said Joe Foster, special assistant to the state secretary of transportation.
In the spring, the state began posting signs in the Interstate 95 corridor to tell truckers the location of the nearest private truck stops. And it is distributing maps showing the locations and capacities for all public and private rest areas. "In a lot of instances when they get tired, truckers find a safe spot on the shoulder to pull over," said Chuck Brown, spokesman at the Maryland Department of Transportation. "They could be just a few miles away from a rest area, but they don't know that."
The District has no rest areas for truckers.
Truck accidents claimed more than 5,300 lives last year, and the U.S. General Accounting Office predicted the figure will rise to 6,000 next year--prompting the House of Representatives last week to approve a bill to create a new truck safety agency.
Ron Knipling, chief of the research division in the Office of Motor Carrier Safety at the U.S. Department of Transportation, said measuring the role of driver fatigue in accidents is difficult. But a recent federal survey estimated that fatigue is a factor in 18 to 40 percent of all fatal crashes involving long-haul truck drivers.
Public rest areas for trucks are built by states with federal highway dollars. While the trucking industry is lobbying the federal government to expand the rest areas, the operators of private, for-profit truck stops say there is plenty of room for the nation's 3 million commercial truck drivers.
The private truck-stop operators, who own about 250,000 spaces and stand to lose some business from additional public rest areas, say the trucking industry is trying to get taxpayers to pick up its cost of doing business.
"The Federal Aviation Administration doesn't build hotels at airports for pilots. That's what you have the private industry for," said Scot Imus, of the National Association of Truck Stop Operators, which represents about 2,000 private truck stops nationwide.
The Federal Highway Administration is studying the issue and is to recommend by June 2001 whether additional public rest areas are needed.
Ray Krammes, a research engineer with the agency, said there are some indications of a shortage of spaces, such as truckers parking overnight along highway shoulders and exit ramps. And he said the parking problems are acute in congested regions such as the I-95 corridor through Baltimore and the highways around Los Angeles.
Most private truck stops don't charge for overnight parking; many offer it free with a fuel purchase. The truck stops earn most of their profit from food, showers and the supplies they sell to truckers. The private stops are open 24 hours a day and usually have no time limits.
But the private stops often are farther from the highway than public rest areas. And in the pressure to stay on schedule, many truckers opt for the closest haven.
Meanwhile, citizens band radios in truck cabs across the country continue to buzz with late-night conversations about motion and rest.
"The whole object is to get from point A to point B safely and make money," said Marsh, who was hauling four fiberglass horse statues from California to a restaurant in Rockville on the night he was ticketed in Charlottesville. "I drive until I'm tired--and not beyond. But this problem with parking is not going away."
CAPTION: Richard Marsh thought he was doing the right thing when he slept at a rest area near Charlottesville. He got a ticket for staying too long.