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Deadly Accident Shifts Spotlight to Truck Driver Fatigue

Comedian Tracy Morgan as well as several other passengers remain in critical condition following a serious accident involving the Mercedes Sprinter van in which they were travelling. Morgan’s friend and writer James “Jimmy Mack” McNair was killed when a Wal-Mart tractor slammed into the back of a Mercedes luxury bus containing the comedian and his fellow performers, causing it to roll and careen out of control and into other cars.

What began initially as a tragic accident grabbed national attention when more details of the dramatic scene were released. Officials believe the accident was caused when Wal-Mart truck driver Kevin Roper failed to observe slow moving traffic in front of him and swerved at the last second in an attempt to avoid hitting the vehicle in front of him. As photos and video from the crash site reveal, the truck slammed into the Mercedes carrying Morgan with his friends and fellow performers with enough force to flip the vehicle on its roof, causing a chain-reaction crash with four other cars.

Officials claim that Roper had been awake for 24 hours prior to the incident, a charge in which he has vehemently denied on his twitter account and in court. Police officially charged the truck driver with “one count of vehicular homicide and three counts of injury by auto, according to the criminal complaint filed in Middlesex County Court.” (via Huffington Post) Roper has entered a not guilty plea in court.

Unlike drunk driving, drowsy driving can be extremely difficult to prove in court. Distracted driving is severely underreported because there are simply not enough effective ways to find evidence related to the driver being distracted or tired. Data compiled by the National Sleep Foundation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that drowsy driving is becoming a critical issue that needs to be solved. The NHTSA estimates that about 100,000 crashes can be attributed to driver fatigue annually. Each year, these accidents are responsible for an “estimated 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries, and $12.5 billion in monetary losses.” This data is skewed, of course, because there is no test to determine if a person was experiencing fatigue and self-reporting is unreliable.

Driving while intoxicated can be easily proven by a field sobriety test or Breathalyzer test administered by an officer at the scene. The same battery of tests is not applicable to drowsy driving even though research suggests the symptoms are very similar. A now-well-known Australian study concluded that drivers who stayed awake for 18 hours straight recorded an impairment level equivalent to a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .05. Drivers who stayed awake for 24 hours produced impairment levels equivalent to a blood alcohol concentration of .10 after 24 hours. The legal limit in Massachusetts and many other states is .08.

Drowsy driving has long been a serious problem with truck drivers. Long hours spent on the road make truckers especially susceptible to driver fatigue and the massive size of the tractor-trailers make them extremely dangerous to other vehicles on the road. Relatively recent federal regulations require a driver to spend no more than 14 hours on the road each day. New federal regulations also “mandate a 30-minute break during the first eight hours of their shift and reducing maximum workweeks to 70 hours over eight days – including a 34-hour break once per week,” according to NBC News.

Though the regulations are designed to make sure the drivers get more rest, many driver advocates argue that the new guidelines actually make the problem worse. The strict 14 hour schedule means that drivers feel more of a squeeze to get more driving in in less time, and pulling over to take a quick nap when they feel tired is not an option because it cuts into the time they are allowed to be on the road.

Corporations put extreme pressure on drivers to haul huge loads in the least amount of time possible, pushing drivers to skip naps, even though driver fatigue is a leading cause in truck accidents. Marissa Padilla, director of communications for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, part of the DOT told NBC News, “No matter what the limits on driving and work hours are, if the motor carrier and driver plan the schedule so tightly that the driver can barely complete the run legally, this problem will occur.”

Drowsy driving, especially involving tractor trailers, remains a serious threat to everyone on the road. The Department of Transportation reports that, “there were an average of 868 big-rig crashes per day, leading to an average of 11 fatalities and 200 injury accidents each day in 2012, the most recent year in which data is available. Car accidents can happen at any time, and if you or a loved one has been injured as result of a driver who fell asleep at the wheel, we can help. At the Greater Boston Law Firm of Altman & Altman, LLP, our experienced team of Massachusetts Personal Injury Attorneys have successfully handled thousands of car accident injury cases, including accidents involving driver fatigue. We are happy to answer any questions you may have, and get you the compensation you deserve.

At the law offices of Altman & Altman, we are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week – including nights and weekends to answer any questions regarding your case. Call us today to schedule a free initial consultation and case evaluation.

Read the full article from NBC News

Read the full data report here

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