It has been a few weeks since the fatal crash involving comedian Tracy Morgan’s vehicle. News outlets — and not just entertainment news outlets — have continued to report on Morgan’s progress. He is a celebrity, as was James McNair, who died in the accident, but the nation’s interest may stem more from the particulars of the accident than from the people involved.
As we said in our last post, the accident occurred when a tractor-trailer slammed into the back of the limo van carrying Morgan and his companions. A multi-vehicle pileup followed, as did a multi-agency investigation. New Jersey police have charged the driver with vehicular homicide and assault by auto, claiming that he had been awake for more than 24 hours. The driver’s hours of service violated state laws but not federal regulations, according to the early findings of federal agency the National Transportation Safety Board.
The NTSB is looking further back than the 24 hours immediately preceding the crash. Investigators want to know how long the driver had been awake and behind the wheel before he signed in on June 6. Federal regulations require truck drivers to take a 34-hour break before starting their work week.
The break — called a “restart” — must include two periods of rest between 1:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. The rule is designed to ensure that drivers have at least two nights of rest (if not sleep) per week. Regulations also limit that week to a maximum of 70 hours and limit the workday to 11 hours of driving with at least one 30-minute break.
The trucking industry has fought these hours-of-service regulations for a long time. For some opponents, it is simply a question of whether the government can regulate sleep. Other arguments point to the shorter workdays and mandatory rest periods putting drivers on the roads during peak traffic hours. The delays can cost the truckers and the companies on either end of the shipment money without having any measurable effect on safety.
Congress has at least one proposal in the pipeline that would dump the nighttime rest rules. In an election year, and in light of Morgan’s very well-publicized accident, it’s hard to say how far that proposal will go.
The New York Times, “Truckers Resist Rules on Sleep, Despite Risks of Drowsy Driving,” Jad Mouawad and Elizabeth A. Harris, June 16, 2014
CNN, “NTSB: Truck in Tracy Morgan crash was speeding, driver neared rest limits,” Alan Duke, June 19, 2014