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Accident leads to questions about trucker hours

June 10, 2014

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.

Discussion Questions:

Are federal rules properly addressing the fatigue factor among commercial truck drivers or should they concentrate more on other issues the industry argues are more important to traffic safety? Do you think the accident involving Tracy Morgan will lead to even greater regulation of commercial trucking?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

Do you support the current or previous rules governing hours of service for property carrying truck drivers?


Let's look at some facts:

(1) The average trucker -- driving legally -- is still putting in almost twice the number of hours as the average (40 hour) worker. How tired would you be if your work week suddenly doubled?

(2) There is a chronic shortage of qualified long haul (and often short haul) truckers with an ever increasing amount of product being delivered by truck.

(3) Truckers don't get paid unless they are on the road, which means they'll drive as long and as often as they physically can. If they don't, they have a hard time making a living.

(4) Most companies have adopted a "Don't ask; Don't tell" attitude toward truckers' hours.

Now, are the federal rules properly addressing the fatigue factor? Of course not!

Will the Tracy Morgan incident change things? Apparently nearly 3,500 deaths a year doesn't raise an eyebrow and -- if you think publicity changes things -- look at all the gun reform legislation that has passed since New Town.

This is, in the end, an economic issue and the economics aren't likely to change anytime soon.

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Ryan Mathews, Founder, ceo, Black Monk Consulting

Any time a person drives 11 hours out of 14 for 5 consecutive days, there is bound to be fatigue! I drive the I-95 corridor frequently from Virginia to New York and can attest to seeing many incidents of reckless driving and what appears to be driver fatigue. I wonder how many drivers are pushing the limits of their bodies along with the limits of their equipment, especially if they are paid by the mile! Stronger rules will cost money but may save many lives. Even the largest SUV is no match for an out-of-control 18 wheeler.

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J. Peter Deeb, Managing Partner, Deeb MacDonald & Associates, L.L.C.

Let's put the smart-ass bureaucrats behind the wheel and let them live with their own policies. The same thing applies to emergency room doctors, pilots and flight attendants. The only people who get to sleep on the job are in Congress.

You can tell people to take a break for 30 minutes or even a couple of hours. As most of us will attest, when you know you've "got to get back at it" in a few minutes, true rest is impossible.

Was going to rant on, but Ryan is far more eloquent on this than I could be and I gladly give him my proxy.

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Ian Percy, President, The Ian Percy Corporation

Ryan gave us all the cold hard facts. Unless we change the economics of the trucking industry and by extension the retail industry, this will continue to happen. We do not have an extensive rail system to deliver products, so trucks are here to stay. Part of the answer may be in giving truckers a decent living and enforcing the 70 hour rule more diligently.

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Zel Bianco, President, founder and CEO, Interactive Edge

Fatigue of truck drivers has long been a problem. Nothing has happened for all the reasons Ryan outlined. Will something be done? Probably not. The parties can not agree. Is it important to regulate issue of safety for truck drivers like the safety regulations for pilots? Yes, for the safety of others on the road and the truck drivers themselves. The industry structure works against anything changing.

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Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D., President, Global Collaborations, Inc.

I am wondering if this question even comes up if the accident had not involved a celebrity.

Truckers hours behind the wheel are a serious issue. I agree with the previous responses, especially regarding those making the laws and then sitting at home while these drivers are at risk.

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Ed Rosenbaum, CEO, The Customer Service Rainmaker, Rainmaker Solutions

In our celebrity-worshiping media cult, we define news by the severity of the "things" that happen to them. But as soon as the issue is raised, it dies down with a one week half-life.

So, I don't expect any further regulations of commercial trucking to come out of this. It's not the regulations as much as it is their enforcement and changed behaviors; and that is a tough nut to crack given the economics of that industry.

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Mohamed Amer, Global Head of Strategic Communications, Consumer Industries, SAP

For one thing, this accident hasn't been adjudicated. No one knows what really happened. I don't think this accident will change anything as "regulations" have a way of grinding on forever and truck drivers, by nature, will fight any effort to regulate their activities. The lawyers in this situation will probably extract a huge judgement against Walmart. The resulting increase in insurance premiums will probably be accompanied by digital devices that will regulate operator hours in exchange for reduced premiums.

This increased cost of operation will do more to regulate drivers than anything the feds might devise.

Ed Dennis, Sales, Dennis Enterprises

No. Who checks driver fatigue and confirms it against a time clock? It is great to have these laws enacted, but if there is not a check and balance system which can be put in place to enforce these laws, we are only wasting time, money and other resources. Realistic, achievable and enforceable laws are what are needed here.

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Kai Clarke, CEO, American Retail Consultants

Ryan has, once again, nailed it. And, nothing will change because we have the best Congress that money can buy. I wish I could be more optimistic.

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Warren Thayer, Editorial Director & Co-Founder, Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer

The comments I have read here are looking through the wrong end of the telescope. The current technology in a high-end luxury car will tell you that you are falling asleep, tell you are wandering out of your lane, stop your car before it hits another car, keep you from following too close. If we are going to legislate, let's legislate technology that reduces risk. (Oh, and maybe we can just include the new Google technology in the future and either eliminate the driver or make him a passenger! He can fill the fuel tank every few hundred miles.)

Jan Kniffen, CEO, J Rogers Kniffen WWE, LLC

Yes, like with flight professionals, an accident involving death spurs the trucking community toward stiffer driving standards.

cindy hinnendael, field marketing rep, advantage

Let's assume that the facts are as presented, and the driver hadn't slept in more than 24 hours. I find it hard to believe he was in compliance with the existing regulations.

So we can fix this with a new regulation?


Having managed a large private fleet (2,000 drivers) your perceptions of the trucking industry are wrong. Most of the drivers are outstanding individuals who abide by the laws, work extremely hard, deal with a variety of weather conditions, put up with automobile drivers who cause many of the accidents, and successfully drive millions of miles with no issues: incidents or accidents.

In today's business environment, every tractor should be equipped with black box recorders/satellite connections so that performance can be monitored and evaluated. Many times drivers are asked/forced by management to drive beyond the legal limits because they are required to meet unreasonable customer expectations.

Are some truck drivers bad? Absolutely. Are the deaths of 3,500 people a big deal? Absolutely. Put the issues in perspective; 35,000 people die every year in car accidents and society remains silent.


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