The NBC4 I-Team has uncovered new information about a move by Congress to relax recent regulations limiting the number of hours truck drivers can be on the road.
Driver fatigue is being looked at as a possible factor in the accident that critically injured actor Tracy Morgan and killed his friend Jimmy McNair. The two were in a limo bus on the New Jersey turnpike when a Walmart truck crashed into them, flipping the limo over.
A criminal complaint charges the truck driver, Kevin Roper, in connection with vehicular manslaughter and assault.
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The complaint accuses Roper of driving without sleeping for a period in excess of 24 hours.
Last summer, the federal government moved to address the issue of driver fatigue. New regulations were adopted by the feds limiting truck drivers to an average work week of 70 hours.
They also require drivers to take a 30-minute rest during the first eight hours of a shift. A driver can work up to 14 hours during a shift, but only 11 behind the wheel.
"These fatigue-fighting rules for truck drivers were carefully crafted based on years of scientific research," said Anne Ferro, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration administrator.
The American Trucking Association, an industry advocacy group, says the issue is not about how many hours a driver works but how they spend their off-duty time. They say “drivers must take advantage of their off-duty periods for rest and that drivers should not drive if they are fatigued.”
For more than a year, the NBC4 I-Team has been exposing problems, including driver fatigue, that lead to accidents on California highways.
But a battle is brewing on Capitol Hill over limits set for truckers to drive. Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to roll back a provision of the “hours of service rules” that were updated last year. That would increase the maximum hours a trucker can work in a week from 70 to 82. Truck drivers had been allowed to work 82 hour weeks in the past.
Jackie Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, says increasing the hours truck drivers can be on the road is dangerous.
"One out of seven truck crashes a major factor in that is truck driver fatigue so a lot of people are needlessly dying on our highways," Gillan said.
Late Monday, Walmart issued a statement saying “the company believes Mr. Roper was driving in compliance within federal regulations, but the details of the accident will come out in the investigation, and Walmart says its fully cooperating with the authorities.”