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Tonko: Truckers Need Safe Places to Stop

Picture this: You are a hardworking mother with a 2-year-old son in upstate New York, and you are pregnant with twins. One late winter morning you say goodbye to your husband as he heads out the door on another truck run. This particular run finds the rig filled with milk, and the destination is South Carolina. You have said goodbye to him hundreds of times before. Only this time, he doesn’t come back.

On March 5, 2009, that is exactly what happened to Hope Rivenburg. Her husband, Jason, was foolishly murdered in South Carolina while sleeping at an abandoned gas station along the highway. His murderer stole a meager $7 from Jason’s wallet after shooting him in the cab of his truck.

Federal law requires truckers to rest after 11 hours of driving. This law is both for the safety of our nation’s truckers as well as other motorists on the road. However, if the resources for this law are not supplied, it is just another unfunded mandate with catastrophic unintended consequences, as in Jason’s case.

That is why I introduced Jason’s Law, H.R. 2156. This bill would rectify the dire shortage of safe parking for trucks and improve the conditions at current truck parking facilities. The legislation will provide funding for the secretary of Transportation to build safe rest areas with parking for commercial motor vehicles, build parking facilities next to truck stops and travel plazas, and open existing facilities for parking, including weigh and inspection stations. Additionally, it would make improvements at facilities that are closed on a seasonal basis and improve the geometric design of interchanges on the national highway system for better access to commercial motor vehicle parking facilities.

Jason’s Law has received widespread bipartisan support, and I would be remiss if I did not mention the leadership and advocacy that my Republican colleague, Rep. Erik Paulsen of Minnesota, has exhibited on this issue. In a time when bipartisanship is harder and harder to come by in Washington, D.C., Congressman Paulsen and I are standing together to show that not only do we need to improve the safety conditions for our nation’s truckers, but also for everyone else on the road, especially as the economy gets moving again.

With more than 40 co-sponsors in the House, Jason’s Law also has the support of a wide range of industry and safety advocates, including the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, American Trucking Association, American Moving & Storage Association, Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, Truckers and Citizens United, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety and many more.

Prior to the introduction of Jason’s Law, truck parking facilities were authorized under the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient, Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users in the amount of $25 million from 2005 to 2009. However, that funding was never appropriated, and the pilot program never got off the ground. Jason’s Law compensates for that lost time and lost funding by authorizing $20 million from fiscal 2010 through fiscal 2015, for a total of $120 million. Additionally, it requires a report to Congress no more than three years after the date of enactment on the results of the program.

The top priority of this session of Congress, rightfully so, is on job creation and economic recovery. Small businesses are the heart of the engine that drives our economy and said recovery. If we require our truck drivers, who are themselves small-business owners, to continue to ramp up their deliveries to small businesses and even major corporations, we need to also ensure their safety. Jason’s Law, by investing in infrastructure and helping to plug state budget shortfalls, does just that.

There is a famous song by Aaron Tippin titled “Roll On.” It is about a father who is a truck driver, who goes off the road and crashes his rig in a snow bank in Illinois. His family doesn’t know whether he is OK until he calls home to say so later in the evening. He tells his wife and children that he is fine and tells them to sing the song he has taught them:

“Roll on highway, roll on along, Roll on daddy till you get back home, Roll on family, roll on crew. … And roll on 18-wheeler roll on.”

Jason Rivenburg, like many other truckers this year, no longer has the ability to “roll on.” Providing truck parking facilities to buttress existing federal mandates is a bipartisan, common-sense solution. Until then, I encourage all of our summer drivers and travelers to drive safe, drive smart and support your nation’s truckers by advancing Jason’s Law.

Rep. Paul Tonko is a New York Democrat.

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