Celebrity crash brings trucker fatigue regulations into spotlight

Negligent driving can occur when an individual is too tired to concentrate. This article explores fatigue-related truck accidents.

Fans of the television show “30 Rock” may know that one of its actors, Tracy Morgan, was recently rear-ended by a Walmart tractor-trailer. Police suspect that the truck driver — who allegedly had been up for 24 hours — failed to notice that traffic had slowed in front of him on the New Jersey Turnpike. Perhaps due to fatigue, he slammed into a limo bus carrying Morgan and four hours at high speed. Morgan was critically injured and another passenger was killed in the truck accident.

Officials for the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the Tracy Morgan crash. As part of that investigation, they have requested the truck driver’s log. The entries in that log could determine whether civil and criminal liability might attach not only to the truck driver, but also to his employer.

Regulations limit workweek hours

There are federal regulations that limit a truck driver’s maximum workweek to 70 hours. In addition, the rules impose a 34-hour resting period comprising at least two nights — defined as the period between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. — before a trucker may start the next workweek. Federal rules also limit consecutive driving shifts to 11 hours a day, with at least one half-hour break Notably, those restrictions are fairly new, the result of rules that were implemented in June 2013. Before then, truck drivers were allowed to accrue 82 hours in a workweek. That may surprise readers, as drowsy driving is cited as a leading cause of car and truck accidents.

Commercial truck industry opposes fatigue-related regulations

Many trucking industry representatives oppose the regulations, and some have petitioned Congress to repeal them. Those efforts apparently prompted a defense in a blog posted on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s official website by Anne Ferro, Administrator for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Ms. Ferro defended the June 2013 hours-of-service regulations as crucial to preventing fatigue-related truck accidents. Ferro claimed that fatigue is under-reported in truck accidents, playing a role in 13 percent or more of crashes involving a commercial truck driver. Indeed, a 1990 NTSB study found that fatigue was a cause in 31 percent of the surveyed crashes, placing it ahead of impaired driving. Given the debate over the hours-of-service regulations, it should come as no surprise that proving truck driver fatigue in a personal injury lawsuit might be difficult. The regulations provide one measure of accountability, but an attorney might want corroboration of the logbook entries by cross-referencing those entries against fuel receipts, weight stop measurements, as well as any on-board recordings. If you or a loved one has been in a truck accident, you may need an investigative strategy that considers whether a truck driver complied with applicable safety regulations. A personal injury lawyer can help you build a strong case.