Tracy Morgan Truck Accident Underscores Problem of Truck Driver Fatigue

A serious accident on the New Jersey Turnpike involving a Limo and a Walmart truck that threatened the life of “30 Rock” TV star Tracy Morgan and killed his friend may have been caused by driver fatigue.

The limo/bus Morgan was riding in on June 7 rolled over after being hit by a Walmart truck driven by Kevin Roper, 35, of Jonesboro, GA. Morgan, a former Saturday Night Live comedian, was in critical condition when airlifted to Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick.

James McNair, writer for Morgan and a close friend, was killed and two other passengers were also in critical condition when hospitalized. Morgan sustained a number of injuries, including a broken femur, a broken nose and several broken ribs.

Roper, a driver for Walmart, has been charged with death by auto and assault by auto. Reports at the scene suggested Roper may have been dozing. A report by ABC News states Roper had not gotten any sleep for 24 hours before the crash.

Terry Cochran, a Michigan attorney who has led reforms for truck safety, points out that fatigue is a major contributing factor to many truck accidents because companies keep their drivers on the road for too long. Walmart has sophisticated equipment to keep track of where their drivers are and it is unbelievable that Walmart allowed their driver to be on the road for too long.

“More often than not, a needless tragedy like the Tracy Morgan incident will occur because a truck company kept the driver on the road longer hours without the required breaks to satisfy business demands,” says Cochran, senior partner of Cochran, Kroll & Associates based in Livonia, MI. “The biggest killer on our highways is fatigue. Federal transportation officials must come up with stricter guidelines to make sure that logbooks are properly kept and that commercial carriers ensure their drivers get the rest they need between trips.”

Besides calling for reforms to combat fatigue, Cochran also has championed mandatory retirement ages for truck drivers and in Michigan has pushed for paving construction to widen two-lane highways that often contribute to fatal truck-car accidents.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reports that as many as 4,000 Americans a year are killed in collisions with trucks that have incurred thousands of safety violations, such as defective brakes, bad tires or loads dangerously beyond weight limits. Many of the truck drivers involved had little or no training, many were 65 or older, and many others had a history of alcohol and drug abuse.

“Truck accidents occur because of fatigue, highway design faults, defective equipment, and driver error,” says Cochran. “Some causes are predictable; others are not. The result is always predictable, though — the shear mass of a truck traveling 40 m.p.h. or faster colliding with a car or, in this case, a limo bus… the truck always wins.”

Cochran, Kroll & Associates became an advocate for reforms to reduce the number of car-truck collisions after representing the family of a 5-year-old boy who was killed when a semi-tractor truck struck from behind a vehicle being driven by his mother.

“None of us should be at peace until certain actions are taken,” stresses Cochran. “And these actions are: widening our two-lane highways; adding left-turn flare lanes as needed; stricter enforcement to ensure log books reflect actual driving time and rest time; and establishing a mandatory retirement for truck drivers at age 65.”

In response to the crash injuring Tracy Morgan and killing his friend, the National Transportation Safety Board said it is looking at issues related to commercial trucking and safety.