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As mandates loom, it’s getting harder to ‘just keep truckin’

As the sun sets during the 7 p.m. hour on a recent Tuesday evening, the truck parking is already at near capacity at the rest area located along Interstate 55 in Madison County. (Melissa Crockett Meske/Illinois Business Journal)



The trucking industry, in Illinois as well as in the other 49 states, operates under an extensive list of regulations designed with good intentions: To ensure the safety of drivers, other motorists, pedestrians, and the environment in which we all live. 

These regulations cover everything, from drive times and down times to emissions standards and the movement to zero emission, electric vehicles (EVs). And looming near the top of that very lengthy list: Environmental and labor laws. Laws that are now throwing up roadblocks and taking their toll on an industry already crippled by a shortage of available labor, the higher costs of doing business, and still more.

In a story written by Jeannine Otto and published by AgriNews in late March 2023, Mid-West Trucking Association Executive Vice President Don Schaefer shared: “It is scary right now… And our industry has a bull’s-eye on its forehead.”

Schaefer noted that both compliance with environmental regulations and labor laws are of concern, and are costly. Compliance could force the smaller trucking firms and independent operators out of business, in fact. MTA members, including ag industry and construction truckers as well as those from other industries, have repeatedly voiced their concerns when talking with Schaefer and with state lawmakers.

Two laws that exist now in California are being looked at for implementation in Illinois that specifically address environmental and labor legislation for the trucking industry.

Written to be stricter than current federal standards are the California Air Resources Board emissions requirements. Now viewed as model environmental legislation for the trucking industry, as of Jan. 1, 2023, for example, all Class 7 (gross vehicle weight rating between 26,001 and 33,000 pounds) and Class 8 (GVWR exceeding 33,000 pounds) diesel-fueled trucks in California were required to have 2010 or newer model year engines. 

Fourteen states have already adopted some or parts of California-led emissions regulations, and there is a push to do so now in Illinois. While noting that their regulations have improved the environment, Schaefer said Illinois is not set up for this.

The NET-Z coalition is further pushing the state to enact legislation to mandate an increasing percentage of heavy- and medium-duty trucks sold in Illinois to be electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. This coalition is composed of environmental, community and labor groups demanding the adoption of the Advanced Clean Trucks, or ACT, Rule. 

The ACT Rule has different benchmarks for different types of vehicles, but its essence is that nearly all new trucks and delivery vans would be at zero emissions just 17 years from now, by 2040.

NET-Z is also calling for the adoption of the Heavy-Duty Omnibus Rule, involving state mandates for stricter nitrogen oxide emissions controls on new fossil fuel trucks.

“It is not like all the trucks sold have to be electric immediately under the Advanced Clean Trucks rule,” said J.C. Kibbey of the Natural Resources Defense Council in a recent story published by Energy News Network. “It’s a very gradual ramp, and the omnibus emissions reduction rule could be ‘the peanut butter to the ACT’s jelly,’ reducing emissions from fossil fuel trucks as the transition to zero emissions plays out.”

A second California-based law potentially making its way to Illinois is known as AB5. AB5 reclassifies independent contractors as employees. Schaefer explained to AgriNews that this legislation essentially eliminates the independent contractor and the owner/operator model from the trucking industry.

AB5, or Assembly Bill 5 as passed by the California State Legislature and signed into law there in the fall of 2019, was initially thought of as one way to bring employee benefits to the gig economy sector. 

AB5 involves a three-point, or ABC test, where a worker is assumed to be an employee unless they meet all three of the test criteria: (A) They are free from the control and direction of the hiring entity when performing their work; (B) The work performed is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business; and (C) The worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation or business.

With the trucking industry, the concern comes with “B.” If an independent contractor or owner/operator is “in the business,” then the work they would be performing is not outside their usual course of business. And, if a trucking company is contracting with them to move a load, then the trucking company is also not performing work outside of its usual course of business. Therein lies the problem. 

If AB5 became law in Illinois as it is in California and elsewhere, thousands of truckers currently operating as independent contractors or as owner/operators could have to be reclassified as employees or the way business is conducted between the two parties would fundamentally need to be changed. Companies could also bear an additional burden, and cost, of providing standard employee benefits to this new class of employees now coming on their payroll.

Truckers are legally obligated to comply with ‘Hours of Service’ Regulations from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. These regulations limit the amount of time that drivers can be behind the wheel, with mandatory rest breaks in place to ensure they’re sufficiently rested when they begin a new shift. While the essence of this seems sensible and protective of the driver, a new concern lies ahead that is, in part, an outcome of these regulations.

Truckers have found themselves being challenged repeatedly when it comes to parking their semis when the time comes for them to gear down and stop during a haul. Most evenings, the truck stops along the interstates fill up fast. The rest areas quickly follow suit. Truckers struggle to find places to park and comply as well with the federal law that prohibits them from moving on.

An American Transportation Research Institute (ATR) survey conducted back in 2016 had indicated that a driver spent nearly an hour a day on average looking for a place to park their rig. That number has likely increased in the last seven years. Now, with a push toward EV trucks being put on the road becoming more of the industry’s reality, this parking issue looks even more concerning.

“There’s already a huge problem in the US with the truck parking shortage. It is perennially identified by drivers as a top concern…Finding a truck parking space with a charger is going to be an entirely different ballgame,” said Jeff Short, vice president of ATRI in an interview with Overdrive Radio.

“When you find yourself behind the wheel of an electric truck, you realize it’s now essential to find a truck parking space that has access to charging. There’s no longer the option of parking on an off-ramp or an unauthorized location if a truck parking location is at capacity,” Short added. 

In reference to the previously noted report, Short also pointed out issues at rural-located truck parking spots. He referred to a rural truck stop included in the study that had roughly 67 spaces for trucks, split on each side of the interstate in his example. 

Short noted, “Truck charging at those locations necessitate new production of electricity, and the electricity will have to move across power lines, transmission lines, distribution lines, to places where large quantities of electricity have never gone before…That location would need more than the electricity equivalent of more than 5,000 US households each day just to power what we found to be 126 each day. That’s a lot of power.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.), fueled in part by his personal history, has reintroduced legislation to provide the U.S. Department of Transportation funding on a competitive basis for the construction of new parking spaces for large commercial trucks. Bost was joined by U.S. Rep. Angie Craig (D-Minn.) and U.S. Senators Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) and Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) in this introduction of the Truck Parking Safety Improvement Action.

The Truck Parking Safety Improvement Act is written to allocate funds to create thousands of safe parking spots for trucks and make necessary improvements to existing truck parking areas.

In a recent statement released by Bost’s office, Chris Spear, president of American Trucking Associations, also noted: “The lack of safe and accessible truck parking places an enormous and costly burden on our nation’s truck drivers as they work to deliver for the American people. Given the chronic nature of this issue and its national scope, it is imperative Congress takes action to provide dedicated funding to expand commercial truck parking capacity.”

“Most folks probably don’t realize that 70% of American freight is transported by truck, yet incredibly there is only 1 parking spot for every 11 trucks on the road,” added Todd Spencer, president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA). “When truck drivers don’t have a designated place to park, they end up parking on the side of the road, near exit ramps, or elsewhere. This isn’t safe for the driver and it’s not safe for others on the road.” 

“As an organization committed to promoting truck safety, we support the Truck Parking Safety Improvement Act,” said Harry Adler, Principal of the Institute for Safer Trucking. “If we are going to improve safety throughout the trucking industry, it is essential to prioritize the safety and well-being of commercial truck drivers. By providing safe and accessible truck parking facilities, we can help ensure that drivers are well rested.”

According to a study commissioned by the Federal Highway Administration, 98% of truck drivers say they regularly have trouble finding safe parking, and are forced to park on an exit ramp, on the side of an interstate, or other unsafe areas. 

Spencer has also noted, however, that most plans to build new truck stops end up running into local opposition. Nearby residents to the proposed developments often put up resistance to welcoming a brightly lit, noisy, all-night business like a truck stop that also has a bit of notoriety for the types of illicit activities that are often associated with it. 

Proposed truck stop developments do not incentivize local officials with the tax revenues they might bring either, as most drivers are out-of-state residents instead of locals who might patronize a tax-paying business in town. 

“So truck parking is competing with bridge projects,” noted George O’Connor, a Washington spokesperson for OOIDA, during an NPR interview. “…if you are an elected official, are you going to go cut a ribbon in front of a bridge? [Or] are you going to cut a ribbon in front of a truck stop?”

Trucker Mike Nichols wrapped up his conversation with NPR by noting that the daily troll for parking spots as the limit on driving time approaches the clock will just continue. “Depending on where you’re at, it feels like being homeless,” Nichols added. “Because you don’t know where you’re going to sleep.”


(EDITOR’S NOTE: This story also appears in the May 2023 Illinois Business Journal print edition.)


  1. Melinda Bruce on May 7, 2023 at 9:31 am

    This will devastate the farming industry in Illinois. There’s no doubt. Those of us that do this for a living are barely making enough money to survive now. When I average out my expenses compared to my wages it comes to about 12.00hr. This will force me to shut down my business. As well as others doing the same thing. I cannot afford an electric truck on those wages.

  2. Mark Felt on May 8, 2023 at 2:10 pm

    Once again liberals beliefs crash into reality.

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