The shocking images and horrific details of theWalmart truck collision in June 2014 that injured Tracy Morgan and took the life of another passenger shook the nation. The accident occurred about 40 miles south of New York City on the darkened roadway of the New Jersey Turnpike when a truck driver working for Walmart allegedly slammed his tractor-trailer into a van carrying entertainers, including Mr. Morgan. The collision critically injured Tracy and killed another passenger.
The crux of the criminal and civil cases against the Walmart truck driver, 35-year-old Kevin Roper, accused of causing the accident involves driver fatigue. Prosecutors and personal injury attorneys working on behalf of the accident victims argue that Mr. Roper had driven the vehicle for more than 24 hours without sleep just before causing the accident in the construction zone.
An investigation conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) showed that the truck driver was traveling 65 miles per hour in a 45 mile an hour zone at the time of the collision. Personal injury attorneys claim that the accident could have been prevented had Mr. Roper obeyed the speed limit and applied the brakes at the appropriate time in the construction zone.
While the accident is tragic, details of the collision only made national headlines because of Morgan’s celebrity status. In fact, driver fatigue has been a leading cause of many highway and road crashes that involve injuries and fatalities for decades. It was only last year that federal transportation agencies changed the laws regulating truck driving by reducing the trucker’s maximum work week from 82 hours down to 70 hours.
Under the new regulations, trucker drivers who max out their weekly hourly driving limit are required to take a mandatory 34-hourresting period before being allowed back on the road. The regulations mandate that the driver must take a break between 1 AM and 5 AM two times every week and are not allowed to drive longer than 11 hours every day with at least one 30-minute break in the schedule.
Trucking Industry Pushes Back
Not everyone is happy with the new regulations designed to minimize driver fatigue. Recently, the trucking industry fought to repeal the mandatory nighttime break regulations. In June 2014, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) proposed a Senate Appropriations Committee amendment to freeze the regulation until further studies could be performed. It is the senator’s opinion that the government initiated the regulation without considering how the change would increase the number of large commercial vehicles on America’s roadways during peak traffic hours.
Her amendment is in response to trucking officials believing the drivers in the industry must have maximum flexibility to perform their jobs and not be told when and how to rest.
Safety Advocates Won’t Give Up
To many safety advocates, the amendment proposed by Sen. Collins is not forward thinking. Even members of the Teamsters union believe that driver fatigue causing accidents has long been underreported and is only now coming to the forefront. Many believe because highways are becoming more congested, truckers need to remain alert and attentive on every mile they travel and by getting adequate sleep the number of accidents should be reduced.
Safety investigators believe that drowsy and sleepy driving is a serious and common problem. However, the debate is likely not to end anytime soon. This is because proving fatigue is difficult and, without proper evidence, hard to legislate.
Technology May Help
Many federal agencies are proposing that bus companies and interstate commercial trucking companies be required to install electronic devices that log the activities of the trucker and the vehicle. This would help ensure the truckers are complying with federally mandated driving-hours rules. This is because manual paper logs can easily be manipulated, which makes it more challenging to verify and enforce the rule.
Many truck companies have already installed these electronic devices on their fleet of trucks, including the Walmart commercial vehicle that struck Mr. Morgan. That Walmart truck was equipped with advanced anti-collision technology that is designed to alert the trucker that there is a vehicle in a neighboring lane when the turn signal is activated. In addition, the technology is designed to reduce the speed of the truck automatically any time it approaches stopped or slow moving traffic.