On Saturday, June 7th a major truck accident seriously injured comedian Tracy Morgan and killed comedian James “Jimmy Mack” McNair. The tractor-trailer crashed into a limo bus on the New Jersey turnpike that was carrying Morgan and several others. Initial reports indicate that the truck driver – Wal-Mart trucker Kevin Roper – hadn’t slept for more than 24 hours. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. President Bill Simon stated that his company “will take full responsibility” if investigations conclude its truck caused the accident.
This high-profile crash sheds light on an issue that has plagued the commercial truck driving industry for years – truck driver fatigue. Driver fatigue is one of the leading causes of large truck crashes in the United States. In fact, the 2006 Large Truck Crash Causation Study reported that 13 percent of Commercial Motor Vehicle drivers were considered to have been fatigued at the time of a serious crash.
Numerous studies have highlighted the effects of drowsiness and fatigue. Sleep loss impacts driving performance similar to alcohol, with performance impaired if sleep is limited to 5 hours for more than 2 nights. If you are awake for 24 hours or more, the effect is equivalent to driving with a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of 0.10%. Sleep disorders, sleep loss, sleepiness and driver fatigue from long and irregular work hours increase the risks of unsafe driving, operational errors, personal injuries and deaths.
While federal regulations limit truck drivers to 11 hours of driving during a 14 hour work day and limit drivers to a maximum of 70 hours of driving per week, many truck drivers still drive drowsy, whether by their own choice or in response to excessive demands of the trucking company that employs them. In some instances, trucking companies pressure drivers to work long hours without interruption in order to ensure loads are delivered in a timely manner. In these situations, the trucking company itself may be held liable and responsible for the harm caused in an accident involving one of its drivers.
Just days before the crash that injured Tracy Morgan, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee approved an amendment removing federal requirements that drivers rest for at least 34 consecutive hours, including two nights between the hours of 1 a.m. to 5 a.m., before beginning another workweek. In light of this incident, it is unclear whether the Senate will support such an amendment.
While this recent accident remains under investigation, it calls attention to a significant safety issue on our roadways – the dangers of driving while fatigued. For more information concerning truck driver fatigue, or if you or a loved one has suffered harm in a commercial trucking accident, please contact the experienced California personal injury atttorneys at Butler Viadro, LLP for an immediate consultation.
NCSDR/NHTSA Expert Panel on Driver Fatigue and Sleepiness, “Drowsy Driving and Automobile Crashes.”