A six-car accident this past weekend on the New Jersey Turnpike, allegedly caused by a driver of a Walmart tractor-trailer who had gone without sleep for more than 24 hours, has raised questions about federal law governing drivers' work hours. The accident left one person dead and three others critically injured, including former Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock Star Tracy Morgan.
The trucker, Kevin Roper of Georgia, has been charged with vehicular homicide and four counts of assault by auto. He is scheduled to make his first court appearance on Wednesday in New Brunswick, NJ before Superior Court Judge Bradley Ferencz, according to The Star-Ledger.
Rules put into place last July currently limit truckers to a 70-hour workweek. The regulations, which sought to reduce accidents caused by driver fatigue, have faced opposition from commercial trucking interests, including the American Trucking Associations (ATA), which are pushing to have old rules limiting drivers to an 82-hour workweek reinstated.
When the new rules were put into effect, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association (FMCSA) estimated the result would be 1,400 fewer accidents and 19 fewer fatalities a year involving big trucks.
"These fatigue-fighting rules for truck drivers were carefully crafted based on years of scientific research and unprecedented stakeholder outreach," said FMCSA administrator Anne Ferro in a statement last July. "The result is a fair and balanced approach that will result in an estimated $280 million in savings from fewer large truck crashes and $470 million in savings from improved driver health. Most importantly, it will save lives."
In 2012, large trucks were involved in 73,000 traffic crashes, up from 51,000 in 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Fatal crashes involving large trucks increased from 2,983 in 2009 to 3,464 in 2012.
"Fatigue, while an important safety issue, is a causal factor in less than 10 percent of all truck crashes, and ATA believes we need to do far more to address the other 90 percent of crashes," said Bill Graves, president and CEO of ATA, in a statement.
The ATA is pushing for more aggressive enforcement of laws for distracted and aggressive drivers while mandating the use of governors to restrict the speed of large trucks to 65 miles per hour.
Do you support the current or previous rules governing hours of service for property carrying truck drivers?