Comedian and star of “30 Rock,” Tracy Morgan, was involved in a semi-truck wreck this week. The truck plowed into the rear end of a limousine bus Morgan and his friends were passengers in. Tragically, comedian James McNair did not survive, and Morgan was transported to the hospital with serious injuries. Other vehicles were also involved in the crash and other drivers and passengers were injured.
Thousands of tractor-trailers travel the roads each day and no one is immune from their dangers. Each year there are approximately 500,000 semi-truck wrecks, 5,000 of which causefatalities, annually. News stories report the driver of the truck that struck Morgan had not slept in 24 hours. The driver has been charged in New Jersey with vehicular homicide and assault by auto; he pled not guilty in court to all charges. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is still investigating the wreck and considering violations of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Part of the NTSB’s role is to find violations, document them, and gather facts to prevent other 18-wheeler collisions in the future.
FMCSA regulates the trucking industry and sets minimum standards for drivers of commercial vehicles. Drivers are required to comply with things such as maximum driving hours, rest breaks, and adequate sleep. For example, drivers are only permitted to start a shift if they have had ten consecutive hours off duty, drivers are only permitted to drive for a total of 11 hours in a 14 hour period, and 30 minute breaks are required at least every eight hours. In fact, there is a specific regulation under FMCSA that drivers should not drive, nor be required to drive, if their alertness is likely to become impaired due to fatigue, illness, or any other cause. The FMCSA also limits drivers to working 60 to 70 hours per week. Congress is considering changing the rules to allow drivers to drive as many as 82 hours per week. Fines can be imposed on companies and drivers that violate the FMCSA requirements.
Obviously, if the driver of the big rig that crashed into Tracy Morgan’s vehicle truly had not slept in 24 hours, he was not in compliance with FMCSA regulations. Drivers are required to keep a log of their time spent driving, sleeping, loading or unloading, and resting. It is unclear whether any lawsuits have been or will be filed, but certainly the log will be an important piece of evidence. Reports indicate the semi-truck driver worked for Wal-Mart and Wal-Mart has said it will take full responsibility if the investigation determines its truck caused the accident.
While the FMCSA is a federal regulation, under the umbrella of the Department of Transportation, most states have adopted similar or identical minimum standards. Kentucky’s can be found at 601 KAR 1:005.
We are sorry for the loss of Mr. McNair and wish the injured a quick recovery. The news reports from this crash have brought trucking regulations to the national stage and hopefully crashes like this can be prevented in the future as a result.