Just days after the Senate Appropriations Committee voted in favor of rolling back DOT regulations limiting truck driver's hours on the road, a Wal-Mart truck crashed into a vehicle on the New Jersey Turnpike resulting in the death of a motorist and critically injuring comedian actor Tracey Morgan. In the wake of the accident and the resulting publicity, the effectiveness of the Hours of Service (HOS) regulations is once again being called into question.
Next week, the Senate is expected to vote on a suspension of the 34-hour break rule, a provision within a spending bill. Safety advocates are continuing to argue for the validity of the new regulations and some are even pushing for more restrictions. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has requested that the Department of Transportation require electronic tracking devices, similar to the famed black box on a commercial airplane, to track hours on the road for truck drivers sooner than the DOT initially planned.
The Wal-Mart truck involved in the crash was equipped with a number of collision-avoidance systems that unfortunately were inneffective in preventing this tragedy.
The Georgia truck driver involved in the accident was allegedly awake for 24 hours before the crash. Current HOS regulations say trucks can drive for 11 consecutive hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty. Regulations also prevent drivers from driving over 60 hours in seven days or 70 hours in eight days—once drivers take a break of at least 34 consecutive hours, including two periods of rest from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m., they may start a new seven or eight day work stretch. The new HOS rules have been in place since July of 2013, though it is important to note that driving without a sleep break for 24 hours was illegal even before the new changes.
Heavy truck accident rates have been on an incline since 2009, though the reasons behind the jump in numbers is heavily debated. The most recent data, from 2012, shows 3,921 deaths resulting from large truck crashes. Those pushing for stricter regulations point to the increase as exactly that—an increase in the number of accidents. National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Keith Holloway said the group is focusing on fatigue as well as vehicle maintenance, medical qualifications, drug and alcohol testing and other causes as crash numbers increase.
Others, however, say there's more behind those numbers. American Trucking Associations executive vice president David Osiecki told the New Jersey Star Ledger that the improvement in the economy means more trucks are on the road. “Generally, if miles go up and more trucks are on the road, there is more exposure. Also, unfortunately, the states have taken their eye off the ball with enforcement activity,” he told the newspaper.As of June 18, Tracey Morgan's status has been upgraded from critical condition to fair. In addition to the death of Morgan's passenger, two others were also injured in the incident and a total of six vehicles were involved. The driver has plead not guilty to charges of death by auto and assault by auto.