Comedian's injury highlights proposed rollback of trucker rest rules

The serious injuries suffered by Tracy Morgan and several other comedians in a June 7 tractor-trailer accident on the New Jersey Turnpike are further evidence that truck accidents on America’s roadways are no laughing matter. Indeed the accident, which has politicized a proposed rule change to truck driver hours of service (HOS) rules, has safety advocates calling the amendment a joke.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is the sponsor of a measure in the FY15 THUD (Transportation, Housing and Urban Development) Bill that would suspend for at least a year two new truck driver regulations meant to curb trucker fatigue. The regulations limit truckers’ work weeks to 70 hours – down from 82 – and require drivers to rest at least 34 consecutive hours between work weeks.

According to New Jersey authorities, Kevin Roper, the driver of the Wal-Mart truck that struck Morgan’s limo, hadn’t slept for 24 hours at the time of the accident.

Daphne Izer, who started Parents Against Tired Truckers in 1994 after her 17-year-old son was killed in a crash involving a Wal-Mart truck, said of the legislation, “With one amendment, we’re doing away with rules we worked years to develop.”

Collins’ plan to suspend those rules is backed by the American Trucking Association (ATA). The ATA issued a June 5 press release that said the reforms were “unsupported by science.”

Izer and other road safety advocates have been keeping an eye on the amendment since it passed through the committee last week. Although largely unnoticed by the general public, the high-profile Morgan crash may bring national attention to the appropriations bill markup.

“People die every day in accidents, but you never hear tell because they’re not famous,” says Izer, who acknowledges that Morgan’s accident “might have an effect.”

In 2012, commercial truck crashes killed approximately 4,000 people and injured more than 100,000, according to the annual report published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Both fatalities and injuries from large truck crashes have increased over the last three years following a period of decline.

The American Association for Justice reports that trucks are involved in 12.4 percent of all fatal crashes despite making up only 4.7 percent of registered vehicles.

Kevin Roper has been charged with vehicular homicide, assault and reckless driving in the June 7 accident. He was suspended by Wal-Mart pending the outcome of the crash investigation.

Wal-Mart Chief Executive Bill Simon said the company was “profoundly sorry that one of our trucks was involved.”

The driver’s alleged actions violated current federally required off-duty time. It is common, however, in truck accident cases for both the driver and the driver’s employer (in this case, Wal-Mart) to be named in a truck accident lawsuit.

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