Driving To Deliver Your Business

Deadly clash involving tracy morgan calls attention to trucking industry

Day and night, truckers usher our goods across the country, but are they getting enough rest to ensure safety on the nation s highways?

Walmart

Walmart s Grease Fuel Truck (Photo: Walmart)

Wal-Mart truck driver Kevin Roper, 35, was charged with vehicular homicide and four counts of assault by auto on Monday for his involvement in Saturday s crash on the New Jersey Turnpike that killed 62-year-old comedian James McNair, known as Jimmy Mack, while severely injuring four others, including actor and comedian Tracy Morgan, 45, who remains in critical condition.

According to New Jersey State Police Sgt. First Class Gregory Williams, the six-vehicle crash occurred around 1 a.m. on Saturday.

The driver of the tractor-trailer failed to observe slow-moving traffic ahead, Williams said1. At the last minute, he swerved to try and avoid the Mercedes limo bus but struck it from behind, forcing the limo to rotate and overturn.

According to a Facebook post2 from Tyrone Gale, the driver of the limo bus that was chauffeuring Morgan and McNair back from a gig in Delaware, he felt helpless on the highway. There was nothing I could do but scream at times.

I just remember the impact, he said3.

We didn t know which way was up, which way was down. I don t know if we flipped several times or one time. I climbed around and heard Tracy screaming for help, Gale said, before describing how he climbed up on the body of the limo to try and reach his passengers.

I saw the condition of everybody and I knew it would just make it worse if I tried to pull them up and out of the vehicle.

None of the passengers in the four other vehicles, which included an SUV, two cars and another tractor-trailer, reported any injuries.

Roper turned himself into New Jersey police on Saturday, just hours after the accident, and was held in the Middlesex County Jail in New Brunswick until he posted a $50,000 bond later that day.

News of the deadly crash may have spread across the country due to Morgan s celebrity status, but after it was reported that Roper had been awake for more than 24 hours before getting behind the wheel, the conversation turned to one about the safety of our highways.

Road rules

Current hours-of-service rules for truck drivers, which were passed and implemented less than a year ago, dictate that truckers can drive for no more than 70 hours in eight days or no more than 60 hours in seven days, before they are required to rest for 34 hours. While a driver is on a run, he or she must sleep for two consecutive days from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m., as sleep studies have shown that resting during that time period allows the body to recover more from fatigue.

Fred McLuckie, director of the Department of Federal Legislation and Regulation for the Teamsters Union, explained to MintPress News that, before the changes were implemented last July, truckers could drive for up to 82 hours in a workweek. This, he says, was something unions like the Teamsters had been fighting to change since about 1995.

But less than a year after the legislation was implemented, these new rules that are supposed to fight fatigue are at risk of being eliminated, as Sen. Susan Collins has introduced an amendment4 to the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill that would essentially allow drivers to work 84 hours in one week by eliminating the 34-hour restart and the requirement that drivers rest between the hours of 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. for at least two consecutive days.

Despite calls from Joan Claybrook, former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Collins spokesman Kevin Kelley has said the senator has no plans to suspend her proposal. Kelley argued5 the amendment wouldn t change the number of hours a trucker could drive in a single day and said the amendment would make the roads safer.

These provisions may actually be making our nation s roads less safe by forcing more trucks onto the highways during the congested, daytime hours when roads are crowded with cars and school buses, rather than at night when there is less traffic, Kelley said6.

McLuckie disagrees, pointing out that hundreds of trucks are pulled off to the side of the road and at roadside stops at night, since the truckers bodies are telling them that they are tired. This is why he says the trucking industry may not be making a truthful argument when some say it s better for truckers to drive at night.

Tired truckers

Fatigue is a major problem among truckers, McLuckie says. While it s unfortunate that it has taken an accident involving a celebrity to bring attention to this, he says it s time the country has a conversation about how to protect drivers and make the roads safer, since there are hundreds of truck-involved accidents every year.

Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa agrees. In a statement issued Monday, he said, While the notoriety of the victims in this accident pushed truck safety to the front page, more than 4,000 lives are claimed each year on our highways as a result of accidents involving trailer trucks. We must ensure that hours of service rules provide enough rest for drivers so cumulative fatigue doesn t put the driving public at risk.

According to a Monday statement from the American Trucking Association, fatigue is only a causal factor in less than 10 percent of all truck crashes. This makes it seem like the recent New Jersey Turnpike accident was a freak occurrence, but McLuckie does not believe the issue is that limited.

While the exact number of fatigue-related accidents involving truckers is not known, McLuckie says the number of fatigue-caused accidents is likely much higher than what is currently reported, as fatigue has historically been underreported as a cause of accidents, since the driver doesn t always survive and the first responder may not equate the accident to the condition of the driver.

Fatigue is not well understood and is sometimes just not viewed as a primary cause of an accident, he said, explaining that accident investigators may view an accident as a result of a mechanical issue, such as brake failure, instead of listing the true cause of the accident the driver wasn t paying attention or hit the brakes too late.

How often operator error isn t listed as the true cause of an accident isn t something McLuckie can put a concrete number to, but he says that as law enforcement and other officials become aware of how detrimental and rampant fatigue is, they will see just how significant a role it plays in accidents.

Since there are limits on how far or how long a trucker can stay behind the wheel each day, many don t understand how fatigue can be so problematic. But as Bill Graves, president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations, explained in a statement on Monday, the hours-of-service rules have never put a limit on the number of hours a trucker can drive while they are technically off-duty.

The hours-of-service rules only place limits on driving and on-duty time and require that between work periods drivers take a minimum of 10 consecutive hours off-duty, Graves said. But they do not dictate what drivers do during that off-duty period.

No rule can address what a driver does in his or her off-duty time, according to his statement. The industry including ATA, our member fleets, our state associations and the millions of safe, professional truck drivers on the road today strongly believes that drivers must take advantage of their off-duty periods for rest and that drivers should not drive if they are fatigued.

Pressured to keep on truckin

Truckers may opt to drive during their off-duty time if they find themselves behind schedule due to conditions out of their control, such as mechanical failures or bad weather. As in any other industry, the Teamsters head of federal regulation McLuckie says, there are good actors and bad actors in the trucking industry.

Most companies design runs to accommodate hours of service, if they are good responsible motor carriers, McLuckie said, explaining that, essentially, a company would take into consideration how long it would take to drive a particular distance.

However, he says there are some companies that present truckers with runs that exceed the hours of service a trucker can legally drive.

Given that this accident was the ninth involving a Wal-Mart truck in the last 24 months, the Teamsters Union says there are some questions that must be asked of the retail giant about how it treats its workers and enforces the hours of service rules.

Not all motor carriers run their drivers to the limit of their hours-of-service, but it does happen, Hoffa, the Teamsters president, said. Drivers feel pressure from their employers to drive more than 60-70 hours a week with insufficient rest. Without a strong voice in the workplace like the Teamsters Union, these drivers are left with no recourse and the resulting fatigue leads to accidents.

In his experience with the Teamsters, McLuckie says 99 to 100 percent of the truckers that are fired for refusing a run that would force them to drive more than they are legally allowed would get their job back after filing a grievance with the union.

It s a tough and demanding job, he said, explaining new challenges truckers face, such as congestion on highways, which gives them less time to make lane changes and to stop.

They have to be even more attentive these days than they needed to be 10 years ago, which is why McLuckie argues we shouldn t be rolling back hours of service safety regulations.

Reaction

Immediately following the accident, when it was widely reported that a Wal-Mart truck had been involved, the retailer released a statement from its U.S. President and CEO Bill Simon, in which Simon expressed sympathy for the victims and said the retailer was working quickly to understand what happened and are cooperating fully with law enforcement to aid their investigation.

The facts are continuing to unfold. If it s determined that our truck caused the accident, Walmart will take full responsibility, he said.

Roper hasn t spoken directly to the media, but over the weekend some media outlets began to report that a Twitter account7 for the driver had been found. They also reported that a tweet had been posted on the account hours before the accident that read, Trying to win more than lose! Driving trucks for a living it s my road move or get hit! (sic) #Walmart.

That specific tweet has allegedly been deleted since the accident, but publications such as the U.K. s Daily Mail were able to find the tweet8 on cached web pages.

A spokesperson for Wal-Mart stated that9 Roper doesn t have a Twitter account, but Jeremy Crawford, whose Twitter handle is @BLBCashOut, confirmed10 to the Daily News that the Twitter account is, in fact, Roper s.

After the accident, a tweet was posted on Roper s account that appeared to have been from one of his children, as it read my daddy is sorry for what happened please forgive him @RealTracyMorgan we watch martin all the time with hustleman is our favorite.

On Tuesday, an individual appearing to be Roper tweeted11 a statement regarding Saturday s accident, which MintPress opted to not edit:

First off my prayers go out to all the families that were affected. my prayers to the man that passed away during the accident (Mr McNair) i wish it was me and i can t express how horrible i feel. As for the accident i have some things to get off my chest that the media and police have neglected to report. First off i never said i was awake for 24 hours, not once did i say that to any law enforcement or media person. These are lies being spread because they are pressured to make an arrest as this accident was being covered NATIONALLY because a famous person was involved.

Once again the accident was horrific and we lost a precious life, but please remember i was not drunk, high, (I was tested and passed) under any influence of any drug or alcohol, i had an ACCIDENT which unfortunately occurred with a lot of media spotlight.

If my ACCIDENT occurs with no media spotlight i am issued a few traffic tickets. The excuse of me being up 24 hours is complete BS! I was never charged at the scene of the accident because once again i was not guilty of any crime. Not until all the TV cameras came did the police all of a sudden make a determination i was up 24 hours (sounds good and sells papers) also covers their ass. So yes i am now most likely fu*ked because i had an unfortunate ACCIDENT with the wrong car that night.

Later on Tuesday, Roper tweeted, I thought our country said we still had right of being innocent until proven guilty? Oh wait that doesn t sell newspapers or get website hits.

Although some sympathize with Roper and agree that he is being made an example, McLuckie says Roper likely would have been charged to the same degree even if a celebrity had not been involved in the accident because he rammed into the back of that limo bus.

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References

  1. ^ said (www.cnn.com)
  2. ^ Facebook post (www.facebook.com)
  3. ^ said (abcnews.go.com)
  4. ^ amendment (www.landlinemag.com)
  5. ^ argued (www.huffingtonpost.com)
  6. ^ said (www.huffingtonpost.com)
  7. ^ Twitter account (twitter.com)
  8. ^ find the tweet (www.dailymail.co.uk)
  9. ^ stated that (www.dailymail.co.uk)
  10. ^ confirmed (www.dailymail.co.uk)
  11. ^ tweeted (storify.com)
  12. ^ Print This Story (www.mintpressnews.com)


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