Are federal regulations threatening truck-stop chapels? [The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio]

April 16–Roger Foor has spent many Sundays lately waiting alone in a trailer at a truck stop on Interstate 70 with a Bible nearby, hoping to talk with truckers in need of a prayer or just friendly conversation as they pass through the area.

Foor, a member of Jersey Baptist Church in Pataskala, has been a truck stop chaplain in Hebron in Licking County for 25 years.

Recently, he’s noticed that his flock of drivers is more worn down, and many are less likely to stop at the chapel because of job pressures.

He and other chaplains who have set up chapels at some of the estimated 5,000 truck stops that dot the nation’s interstate highway system attribute the drop in attendance to newly implemented rules requiring drivers to use electronic devices to log their work hours, instead of paper logs. Electronic logs can’t be controlled by drivers who might want to pause their time clock to take a faith break, they said.

“The last three years, they’ve really slowed down tremendously” to just a few visitors to the chapel each Sunday, Foor said.

The change saddens the chaplain and makes him worry about those who no longer wander into the trailer parked at the edge of the TA Travel Centers of America stop in Hebron off I-70’s Exit 126.

Foor’s chapel, part of a network spanning 28 states called Truckers Christian Chapel Ministries, is one of 10 run by three organizations in Ohio.

The chapels are typically housed in converted semi-trailers on the edges of travel plazas and truck stops.

They’re used to bring the gospel to often-isolated truck drivers, said Ruth Martin, an executive assistant at Transport for Christ International, a nonprofit group with 28 chapels and ministries in 81 locations across the nation.

“Trucking is a very lonely industry,” Martin said. “Stopping at our chapels not only gives (truckers) physical rest, but spiritual rest.”

Based in Marietta, Pennsylvania, the group began using mobile chapels to minister to truck drivers in 1968 and set up the first permanent chapel in 1986.

Martin and Steve Umholtz, a truck driver and part-time chaplain at a travel center in Florida, said they also believe the drop in truckers stopping at the chapels is related to the switch to electronic logs.

Truck drivers were mandated by Congress in 2015 to switch to electronic logging devices by this past December.

The devices clock how long truckers drive within an 11-hour period — the maximum time a driver can be on the road during a shift. But the drivers are not able to stop the clock to take a break, Umholtz said. And, if they stop for more than 30 minutes, as they’re mandated to during the first eight hours, they can’t drive their full shift, which means they’ll get paid less, he said.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said drivers can still turn off their clocks and switch to off-duty time, but Umholtz said drivers can only do that when they don’t have a load.

“When we started trucking in 2001, you could turn off your clock,” said Umholtz, who drives with his wife, Phyllis.

When drivers are done with their 11-hour shifts, he added, they might not be near a chapel where they can stop and worship. And after reaching their driving limit, drivers must take 10 hours off before getting behind the wheel again.

The rule change is intended to enhance driver safety, said Sean McNally, spokesman with the American Trucking Associations, a trade group with more than 37,000 members.

He said the electronic devices prevent drivers from falsifying the hours they drive and promote safety by also preventing drivers from driving too many hours in a shift. And there’s still the opportunity for drivers to stop, McNally said.

“We encourage drivers to take care of their health in all manners, whether it’s their physical health, their spiritual health or their mental health,” he said. “If you were able to make time to do that before with a paper log … you should be able to do that now.”

Umholtz said some truck-stop chapels have already closed because of the changes, and he hopes they don’t disappear altogether.

“It’s really important for (chapels) to exist because guys are away from home, away from family, away from their wives,” he said. “It’s easy to get lost in the high weeds of life as a truck driver. You’re out there by yourself.”



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