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As Senate Suspends Fatigue Rules, Trucker Charged in Tracy Morgan Crash

3:02 PM EDT on June 9, 2014

Over the weekend, comedian James "Jimmy Mack" McNair died and Tracy Morgan and three other comedians were critically injured when a tractor-trailer crashed into their limo on the New Jersey Turnpike.

One comedian was killed and other critically injured Saturday morning at an hour when rules had limited truck drivers from driving -- until two days earlier.
One comedian was killed and others critically injured on the New Jersey Turnpike in the early morning hours Saturday. Last week, the Senate suspended rules aimed at limiting late-night driving among truckers.
One comedian was killed and other critically injured Saturday morning at an hour when rules had limited truck drivers from driving -- until two days earlier.

Truck driver Kevin Roper is expected to appear in court today on one count of death by auto and four counts of assault by auto. He was driving a Walmart truck around 1 a.m. Saturday when he reportedly failed to notice that traffic had slowed. He crashed into the limo bus, which had Morgan, McNair, and stand-up comedians Ardie Fuqua Jr., Harris Stanton, and three others on board, according to officials. The limo driver wasn’t hurt.

According to the criminal complaint New Jersey authorities filed against the truck driver, Roper had not slept for over 24 hours and was operating the vehicle "recklessly."

That was Saturday. On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee had voted 21-9 to suspend rules aimed at reducing driver fatigue, including rules limiting driving at the hour when the crash occurred.

Sen. Susan Collins said driver-fatigue rules had "unintended consequences."
Sen. Susan Collins said driver fatigue rules had "unintended consequences."
Sen. Susan Collins said driver-fatigue rules had "unintended consequences."

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced the successful amendment, which suspended a requirement that truck drivers rest for at least 34 consecutive hours –- including two nights from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. –- before beginning their next work week. The rules also limit the maximum average work week for truck drivers to 70 hours, a decrease from the previous maximum of 82 hours, and require drivers to take a 30-minute break during the first eight hours of a shift.

Collins said the hours-of-service rules had the “unintended consequences” of forcing truckers to drive during the congested daylight hours, rather than the middle of the night, when traffic is lighter. Off-peak freight delivery is often cited as a common-sense solution to reduce truck congestion in cities.

Truckers chafe at the suggestion that the government knows best when they’re tired and when they should rest. We don't yet know what exactly caused this crash, but driver fatigue is a real problem with deadly consequences. And in urban environments, drivers face far more complex conditions than what Roper found on the turnpike.

The Senate suspended the hours-of-service rules so it could study them. They already have a case study to investigate.

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