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Congress weakened trucking laws days before Tracy Morgan crash

The driver of a Wal-Mart truck has been charged in connection with the wreck this past weekend on the New Jersey turnpike that critically injured Tracy Morgan and left another man dead. News sources are reporting that the truck driver was dozing at the time of the crash.

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), fatigue is a leading factor in large truck crashes. That is just one reason why the move by Congress to suspend a requirement that truck drivers rest for at least 34 consecutive hours between workweeks is so shocking. Highway safety advocates said the amendment could increase the risk of fatal accidents involving tractor-trailers.

The amendment was sponsored by Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), who has been sharply criticized by transportation safety groups for the effort to change the rules. Specifically, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted 21-9 to rescind portions of the rules that require truck driver to take breaks between 1 and 5a.m. on consecutive nights before they can work again. The amendment would also undo a rule that limits truck drivers to declaring only one “restart” per week.

The current hours-of-service rule, which they are trying to suspend, includes common sense, data-driven changes to reduce truck driver fatigue and improve safety by reducing the maximum average workweek for truckers to 70 hours, a decrease from the previous maximum of 82 hours, and also requiring the drivers to take a 30-minute break during the first eight hours of a shift. That rule, along with other changes to the hours-of-operation rules for truckers, took effect in July 2013, after years of study and legal challenges by industry groups and advocates for highway safety.

The Department of Transportation had urged Congress to leave the trucker scheduling rules alone. According to Anne Ferro, head of the FMCSA, the push of the cap on driving hours was to minimize the risk when tired drivers are behind the wheel of an 80,000-pound truck. In her testimony to Congress last year, Ferro said that the FMCSA estimates that the changes will prevent 1,400 crashes and 560 injuries each year, as well as saving many lives. They also estimated that the rule would actually impact less than 15% of the truck driving population, those drivers working the most extreme schedules.

From 2009 to 2012, the rate of fatal truck crashes increased nationwide, reversing a trend of sinking rates. In 2012, the latest year for which statistics are available, truck crashes caused 3,912 deaths, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

If you have been injured in a truck accident, Dan Munley and the Pennsylvania personal injury lawyers at Munley Law Personal Injury Attorneys can help. Visit www.munley.com for more information.

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