After driving his personal vehicle 12 hours from Georgia to Delaware, a truck driver began his shift driving for Walmart. Scheduled to work a standard 14-hour day, he got behind the wheel of his 18-wheeler and set off on his predefined route. Thirteen and a half hours later, after being awake for 28 consecutive hours, while driving 65 mph in a 45 mph zone, and with his reaction time slowed due to fatigue, he rear-ended a van that was traveling less than 10 mph. There were plenty of signs providing notice of both the reduced speed limit and the construction zone up ahead.
This describes the circumstances leading up to the accident that critically injured comedian Tracy Morgan, killed his friend and fellow comedian James McNair (known as Jimmy Mack), and left eight others suffering from injuries. It could also just as easily describe any of the other thousands of fatal truck accidents that occur in the United States every year. Although car accident-related deaths are declining as a result of new technologies, fatalities in trucking accidents are on the rise. Tragically, accidents like this one and recent legislative efforts suggest that safety isn’t Congress’s or the trucking industry’s first priority.
The Dangers of Trucks, Trucking, and the Trucking Industry
We could talk at length about the dangers inherent in 18-wheelers and other commercial trucks. These trucks are big, heavy, difficult to maneuver, and hard to stop. Despite these risks, the trucking industry lobbies Congress for longer hours behind the wheel, and resists adoption of what have proven to be life-saving technologies in passenger vehicles. As a result, while trucks themselves are sometimes to blame, truck accidents are frequently the result of avoidable driver fatigue, driver distraction, and flat-out driver error.
While some mistakes are to be expected, this doesn’t mean that we need to create an environment that encourages them. Truck drivers simply can’t be expected to drive 26 out of 28 hours and stay alert at all times. While the truck that hit Tracy Morgan’s limo van was actually part of the three percent (three percent!) of tractor trailers equipped with collision-avoidance technology, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) was unable to determine if the system was active at the time of the crash.
Truck Accidents are Killing People at Disproportionately High Rates
All of this means that truck accidents are killing people at disproportionately high rates. The New York Times reports that while commercial truckers drive less than 10 percent of all miles traveled on America’s roadways, truck collisions account for 25 percent of fatal accidents in work zones, and 12.5 percent of all fatal accidents. If accident rates remain high through the end of the year, 2015 will see more deaths from truck accidents than there have been air travel fatalities since 1970.
Congress and the Trucking Industry are Headed in the Wrong Direction
Despite the known risks of truck drivers logging too many hours behind the wheel, the trucking industry has actually been lobbying Congress for longer work weeks. Longer work weeks, the industry’s chief trade group says, would mean fewer trucks on the road—and this would mean fewer accidents.
Unfortunately, our nation’s lawmakers seem to be on the trucking industry’s side. Some of Congress’s recent legislative efforts (with the trucking industry’s backing) have included:
- Seeking to allow trucking companies to enforce an 82-hour work week,
- Supporting federal regulatory approval of longer and heavier trucks,
- Reducing the minimum age for interstate truck drivers from 21 to 18, and
- Discouraging the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) from investigating new technologies for monitoring driver and vehicle performance for commercial trucks.
It is difficult to see how any of these changes would improve safety on public roads. In fact, the trucking industry seems to be talking out of both sides of its mouth, as it has also publicly opposed enhanced safety regulations based solely on the cost of adoption. Until safety is everyone’s first priority, passengers and drivers will continue to be unnecessarily placed in harm’s way.
Fales & Fales, P.A. | Trucking Accident Attorneys in Lewiston, ME
Fales & Fales, P.A. is a personal injury law firm with offices in Lewiston, ME. The firm’s owners, attorneys Anthony Ferguson and Jennifer Nichols Ferguson, have over 55 years of combined experience representing trucking accident and other auto accident victims throughout Maine. If you have been injured or a loved one has been killed in a collision involving a commercial truck, we encourage you to contact us for a free consultation.
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