After the accident involving Tracy Morgan and a truck driver who failed to stop for slowing traffic, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is looking at truck driving safety and practices across the nation, including in Kentucky and Indiana.
Morgan's accident happened in the early morning on the New Jersey turnpike, after an exhausted Wal-Mart truck driver slammed his truck into Morgan's limo van, resulting in one person's death. The NTSB pointed out that similar accidents had happened in Kentucky, Tennessee, Illinois, and Maryland. The agency is focused on aspects of commercial truck safety such as drug and alcohol testing of drivers, driver fatigue, medical qualifications, vehicle maintenance, and technology. This includes whether Wal-Mart's collision-avoidance system, which the company began installing in 2010, is effective. Wal-Mart claims that its trucks are programmed to begin braking automatically when they sense traffic is slowing down, to pick up blind spots, and to limit the trucks' top speeds to 65 miles per hour. Yet that did not help the driver in the Morgan accident, who had been awake for 24 straight hours.
Since 2009, the number of fatal crashes involving large trucks has increased steadily, with 3,921 deaths in 2012 alone. The American Trucking Associations, the industry's greatest trade group, claims that the cause is simple: truckers are driving more. During the recession, there were fewer goods being shipped over the country's interstate highways; as the economy improves, the truck traffic has grown accordingly.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety administration responded by noting that new trucking provisions instituted last July limited the truck drivers' maximum work week to 70 hours, down from 82 hours; allowed truck drivers to resume if they rested for 34 consecutive hours; and required truck drivers to take a 30-minute break during their first eight hours. However, the American Trucking Association claimed that the new safety rules could have unintended consequences. For example, they required truck drivers to stay off of the road between 1 am and 5 am in the morning, when the body clock required sleep the most, but at the same time, forced drivers to drive at times when more vehicles were on the road. Nonetheless, the safety rules may still be better than nothing at all, given that the Wal-Mart driver in the Morgan accident was driving his truck at four in the morning.
Coincidentally, the week before the accident, the federal Senate Appropriations Committee approved a rollback of some regulations that governed driving hours. Afterward, they claimed that even with the rollback, the driver's actions still would have been illegal. However, driver safety advocates countered that lawmakers and the trucking industry that supports them routinely downplay driver safety issues in order to roll back regulations that took years to achieve. These new rules would simply result in putting more tired drivers behind the wheel. For other drivers on the road, that is an unnerving thought.
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