Morgan crash brings attention to hours of service feud

Comedian’s encounter with a fatigued truck driver focuses attention on the controversial changes to hours of service rules.

If you are a fan of the shows 30 Rock or Saturday Night Live, you are probably familiar with Tracy Morgan. Morgan recently brought the problem of truck driver fatigue to the nation's attention when he was rear-ended by a tractor-trailer owned by Wal-Mart. Before the accident, the truck driver failed to notice that traffic had slowed down in front of him, causing him to collide with a bus carrying Morgan and his entourage, critically injuring Morgan and killing a passenger. After the truck accident, the driver admitted that he had not slept within 24 hours, a clear-cut violation of the hours of service regulations.

Morgan and others involved in the accident recently filed a lawsuit against Wal-Mart for negligence and reckless conduct in assigning the truck's driver.

New hours of service rules controversial

For many years, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has been aware of the problem that fatigued drivers cause other motorists. As a result, for decades it has implemented hours of service regulations, which set the rules on how long interstate truck drivers may work in a week and how long they must rest before getting back behind the wheel.

Over time, the FMCSA has adjusted the regulations as new safety studies and information has come to light. Recently, the FMCSA changed the rules to limit truck driver to a 70-hour workweek, instead of an 82-hour one under the older rules.

In addition to this change, the FMCSA also made a more controversial change. The recently implemented rules now require drivers to rest for 34 hours over two consecutive night periods between the hours of 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., once they have worked 70 hours. The FMCSA's reasoning for the change was based on studies that found the human body needs rest the most during this time. The change is a departure from the old rules, which required 32 hours of rest but did not dictate when the rest period must occur, meaning that drivers could take their rest periods during the day instead of night.

The rules have been widely opposed by the trucking industry as soon as they were proposed over a year ago. The trucking industry claims that the new regulations would actually lead to more accidents and reduced productivity, because it would force drivers to be on the road during high-volume periods such as rush hour.

The controversy has not gone unnoticed by Congress. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine recently proposed an amendment that would have stopped enforcement of the new rest periods. However, the amendment never moved forward and was eventually removed, due to a highly partisan procedural issue. It is not clear at this time whether the Senate will reconsider the amendment. For now, it looks like the new regulations will remain in effect indefinitely.

If injured, seek an attorney

According to federal officials, truck driver fatigue is one of the leading causes of truck accidents, which are responsible for one-seventh of the 30,000 people who die each year on the roads. If you or a loved one have been involved in a truck accident, a failure to comply with safety regulations may be the cause. An experienced personal injury attorney can investigate the cause of the accident and work to recover the compensation for medical bills and other expenses that you need in order to move on with your life.

Keywords: truck driver fatigue, truck accidents