By Steve Banker / www.forbes.com / May 28th, 2015
It was announced today that comedian Tracy Morgan settled with Walmart for an undisclosed amount over the deadly car crash that left him seriously injured. This has put the issue of truck safety, and whether truck drivers are being allowed sufficient rest periods, back in the news.
On June 7, 2014, a Walmart truck rear-ended the limo bus Morgan was traveling in on the New Jersey Turnpike. Comedian Ardley Fuqua, Jeffrey Millea, Morgan’s personal assistant, were also injured. The collision killed Morgan’s friend and fellow comedian James McNair. His family settled with Walmart earlier this year, for ten million dollars.
The Walmart tractor trailer was reportedly traveling 20 miles per hour over the speed limit. The driver, Kevin Roper, was “almost at his drive time limit,” according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Officials said “Roper had been awake for more than 24 consecutive hours before the crash.”
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration hours of service (HOS) requirements dictate that a driver carrying freight can work up to 14 hours a day, driving no more than 11 of those. In Morgan’s lawsuit, filed in July, it was contended that Walmart “knew or should have known” that Roper was awake “for more than 24 consecutive hours” and that the company had a “custom and practice of recklessly and intentionally allowing its drivers to drive for prolonged and unreasonable periods of time.”
But it is also worth pointing out that the crash occurred just after 1 am. In December of 2014, Congress passed the 2015 Omnibus Appropriations bill which had a provision that weakened the HOS regulations. Specifically, the legislation suspended the requirement that required drivers to be off the road between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. when they are in a mandated rest period.
The suspensions were first proposed by Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican. A spokesman for Collins said the suspension “would actually make the roads safer by letting rested truck drivers travel during the 1-5 a.m. period vs. during the more congested, daytime hours.”
The U.S. Department of Transportation had urged against suspending the rest rules. “Suspending the current Hours-of-Service safety rules will expose families and drivers to greater risk every time they’re on the road,” said the department in a statement.
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