Tracy Morgan Crash Spotlights Truck Driver Rest Rules

A New Jersey crash involving a Wal-Mart truck driver and a limo bus carrying comedian Tracy Morgan has ignited a discussion of truck driver rest rules.

Kevin Roper, 35, the driver of the Wal-Mart truck, allegedly had not slept for more than 24 hours before the collision, according to the complaint. He has been charged with vehicular homicide, assault, and reckless driving. Tracy Morgan’s mentor, Jimmy McNair, was killed in the crash, and three others, including Morgan, were left in critical condition.

Federal regulations limit truck drivers to 11 hours of driving during a 14-hour work day, with a maximum of 70 hours a week on the road without extra breaks. The U.S. Senate recently approved an amendment to those rules, which would suspend mandatory rest requirements. The amendments were proposed by Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine). Specifically, the amendments would stall two measures that were part of a collection of new truck driver rest rules instituted in 2013. One requires that drivers take 24 consecutive hours off before starting a new one-week work period, and the other mandates that time off include two overnight rest periods, between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., back to back. These would only apply to drivers who worked 70 hours over an eight-day work period, or 60 hours over a seven-day work period.

Several groups have voiced opposition to these amendments. Joan Claybrook, the former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, told reporters that she was “extremely disturbed” by the amendments Collins proposed. “This is a major moment, really, to stop the trucking industry from using its major clout,” Claybrook said. “It seems no matter what we do, in terms of pushing to get safer trucks on the road, the trucking industry uses its clout to undo those improvements or stop any ones we push.” Jackie Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, notes, “There is years and decades of research that show two nights is the minimum to restore sleep and be rested before you get behind the wheel of a truck and drive 60 or 70 hours.” The group Parents Against Tired Truckers hopes this collision will persuade Congress to reject Collins’ amendments.

Even truck drivers are opposed to the amendments. Fred McLuckie, the legislative director at the Teamsters, told reporters that unions strongly support the restart rules. “There is nothing that leads to fatigue more than [driving] on the backside of the clock,” McLuckie, said. “To give these guys two regular rest periods we don’t think is too much to ask. We think that’s a reasonable provision.”

Though the trucking industry argues that they are already reducing the amount of truck crash fatalities, which have fallen nearly 30% since 2000, the NHTSA contends that the 4,000 truck accidents each year is still too many. Analyses show that the mandatory rest periods would prevent about 1,400 crashes, 560 injuries, and 19 deaths every year. Further, the Department of Transportation says the new rules would produce an economic benefit. In 2009, large truck and bus accidents cost about $20 billion in medical and insurance costs, infrastructure damage, lost wages, and productivity. The new truck driver rest rules would only affect less than 15% of drivers, too.

Meanwhile, Tracy Morgan remains in the hospital in critical condition.

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