Driver fatigue is one of the leading causes of tractor-trailer crashes. A recent wreck that injured comedian Tracy Morgan and killed a fellow passenger could renew focus on the issue.
The trucker involved in the wreck has been charged with vehicular homicide and assault by auto after his truck hit Morgan’s limo bus on the New Jersey Turnpike and caused it to flip, according to a CNN article.
Drowsy Driving Suspected in Crash
A criminal complaint filed in the case contends that the trucker was awake for more than 24 consecutive hours before the crash, in violation of federal rules for hours of service, which limit truckers to 11 hours of driving in 14 hours, with 10 hours of rest required afterward, the article reports.
Killed in the crash was comedian James McNair, also known as Jimmy Mack, and three other people were injured. Morgan, who sustained broken ribs as well as a fractured nose, leg and femur, underwent leg surgery June 8, according to the article.
Walmart, the truck driver’s employer, said it is investigating the wreck and would take full responsibility if its truck caused the incident.
New Jersey State Police reported that the tractor-trailer driver “failed to observe slow-moving traffic ahead” and tried to swerve at the last second before it hit the Morgan’s Mercedes limo bus in the rear and caused it to rotate and flip on its side. The chain-reaction crash involved four other vehicles, but nobody in those cars was hurt.
The National Transportation Safety Board also is investigating “safety issues” connected with trucking and limousines.
Watering Down the Rules?
The crash took place just days after the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee voted to soften regulations requiring truckers to get more rest before they drive.
The panel voted to amend requirements that truckers get at least 34 hours of rest, with two nights of sleep from 1 to 5 a.m., before they start their next week of work, according to a Huffington Post article. That mandate went into effect in summer 2013 to cut down on driver fatigue.
New regulations also cut the maximum average work week for truckers to 70 hours from 82 hours and require them to break for 30 minutes in the first eight hours of driving.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) lobbied for the new hours-of-service mandate, contending it can reduce the number of crashes involving big trucks. Administrator Anne Ferro criticized Congress for trying to undercut the new laws.
In a blog post, Ferro pointed out that the new rules were reached after the federal government obtained input from victims’ advocates, truckers and companies.
During her testimony before Congress last year, Ferro said new driving rules would avert 1,400 wrecks and 560 injuries and save 19 lives annually.
Clearly, the FMCSA is making a difference in safety on the nation’s roadways. And while the investigation into the crash that injury Tracy Morgan must be completed before blame is assessed, it should raise public awareness about the danger of fatigued driving and the hazards it causes on America’s highways.