Wal-Mart Truck Accident puts effort to amend hours of service rules in question

The crash involving actor Tracy Morgan and a Wal-Mart truck driver has focused national attention on the problem of fatigued drivers. While the debate about forcing truck drivers to observe various breaks and rest periods has been raging for some time, this particular crash occurred at a time when various state legislatures are considering bills designed to lift some of the driving restrictions imposed on long-haul truckers, sparking even greater debate.

The Accident

The “Tracy Morgan Crash” as it is becoming known in the media took place on June 7, 2014. The comedian was riding in a limousine on a New Jersey freeway along with his friend, comedian James McNair, when their vehicle was rear-ended by a Wal-Mart tractor-trailer rig. McNair was killed in the crash and Morgan was critically injured.

The truck driver, Kevin Roper, 35, was charged with several traffic violations. Some believe that Roper may have been sleep-deprived at the time of the crash and that this led directly to his inability to control his vehicle. Wal-Mart has issued statements that the company is cooperating fully with the investigation; however, the company denies that Roper was in violation of driving standards.

The Debate

At the time the crash occurred, various trucking industry officials were working diligently to persuade state legislatures to amend the federal hours-of-service rules imposed on truck drivers. A Maine legislator had pushed through an amendment to the driving regulations, particularly the 34-hour “restart” rule, just days prior to the crash. Claiming that the rules have “unintended consequences” for the public, the bill would block the “two-night rest” rule and change the Department of Transportation regulation that reduces maximum allowable work hours per week. Currently, the DOT sets the maximum number of hours a truck driver can work at 70 per week.

The trucking industry claims that the federal regulations do nothing to make truck drivers and others on the highway safer. Instead, the trucking industry claims that the regulations simply drive up costs for consumers and delay important shipments.

Critics of the efforts to change the federal regulations claim that the trucking industry is putting profit above safety and point to the Morgan crash as evidence of the problem of fatigued drivers on the road.

The Dilemma

While fatigue is an important safety issues, it has been documented to have been a factor in less than 10 percent of all large truck crashes. Large trucks account for eight percent of fatal vehicle crashes nationwide.

Further, debate continues to rage on how to enforce the spirit of the “rest period” rules. As one trucking industry official pointed out, any legislation designed to prevent drivers from being behind the wheel for a certain number of hours does nothing to determine what a driver must do during the rest period. Although Wal-Mart and other companies encourage drivers to sleep during their off times, there is no real way to enforce this wish.

The Morgan accident shed light on a debate that has been ongoing for some time. However, legislatures, the trucking industry and consumer action groups seem no closer to solving this deadly dilemma.

One thing is for certain, when accidents between large semi trucks and cars occur, the outcome can be devastating for those involved. If you have been involved in an accident involving a semi-truck and feel the truck driver was at fault, contact a Florida Truck Accident attorney at David & Philpot, P.L. today. We will take the time to review your case (at no cost or obligation), and consult you on what you can do to protect your rights. Call us today at 800.360.7015 or fill out our free case evaluation form.