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Time-Limit System to Combat Illegal Parking at Expressway Service Areas; Toll Discounts, Enforced Breaks Contribute to Backlog

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Trucks are lined up on the roadside around an entrance to the Hamamatsu Service Area in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, on Nov. 17, blocking the road for smaller vehicles (this image partially modified).

To eliminate dangerous and illegal parking on the roadside around the entrances and exits of expressway service areas, operators of expressways have started an experiment to increase the turnover of parking spaces for large vehicles by imposing a one-hour parking limit on some of the spaces.

Drivers have been forced to park in unsuitable locations as the designated parking areas for large vehicles are often full. The illegal parking has allegedly led to fatal accidents in Shizuoka Prefecture.

The experiment will be conducted at 11 sites across Japan, and began at one of the sites — the Tokyo-bound section of Tomei Expressway’s Ashigara Service Area — on Tuesday.

At about 11 p.m. on Nov. 17 at the Aichi-bound section of Shin-Tomei Expressway’s Hamamatsu Service Area, all 148 large vehicle spaces were occupied. Trucks with no parking space were instead parked in a line on the roadside at the entrance and exit to the service area. The trucks were partially sticking out onto the road so other trucks had to drive carefully past.

The driver of a truck parked on the roadside said: “I know the truck is in the way, but I had no choice but to park on the roadside as the parking area is always full.”

Illegal parking on the roadside can lead to fatal accidents.

In August, a truck driver trying to enter the Ashigara Service Area died after crashing into a truck parked on the roadside. Shizuoka Prefectural Police are questioning the driver of the parked truck on suspicion of violating the Road Traffic Law, believing that the truck’s illegal parking led to the fatal accident.

A similar accident occurred at an exit of the Hamamatsu Service Area in February, killing two people in the moving truck.

Although prefectural police have stepped up patrols, a senior prefectural police officer said that the situation is difficult to manage as: “Once the police are not there, it very quickly moves back to the way it was. It’s a never-ending cycle.”

The way service areas are used by many large vehicle drivers results in the roadside parking and stems from issues related to the transport industry.

Many drivers in the industry wait at service areas near their destinations to take advantage of a discount system, which offers a 30% discount off expressway tolls for vehicles passing through the electronic toll collection system between midnight and 4 a.m. on weekdays.

In addition, a 10-ton truck driver working for a company in Aichi Prefecture said that he has to kill his time at a service area until his specified arrival time at a delivery destination.

Another factor is that the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry requires truck drivers to take at least a 30-minute break for every four hours of driving.

Three expressway operators — East Nippon Expressway Co., Central Nippon Expressway Co., and West Nippon Expressway Co. — have taken various measures to deal with the problem, such as increasing the number of parking spaces for large vehicles and using a dual-use system in which two adjacent parking spaces for a regular-size vehicle, can also be used for one large vehicle, but this has not yet alleviated the situation.

In the experiment at the Ashigara Service Area, 39 of the about 350 parking spaces for large vehicles, including those used in the dual-use system, have been designated as “short-term parking.” Signs and road markings have been set up to request that drivers follow the one-hour time restriction on the spaces.

A Central Nippon Expressway official said: “We want to eliminate dangerous and illegal parking by increasing the turnover of parking spaces, while ensuring drivers can have their break times.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Workers mark a section of one-hour parking at the Ashigara Service Area in Gotemba, Shizuoka Prefecture, on Nov. 16.