Amid a flurry of news reports that the truck driver involved in the Tracy Morgan crash had been awake the preceding 24 hours (per the criminal complaint for vehicular homicide and assault by auto), many groups have weighed in on drowsy driving.
American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) president Dr Timothy Morgenthaler says, “Drowsy driving is a threat to personal health and public safety—it’s just as dangerous as drunk driving. Similar to the effects of alcohol, drowsiness impacts alertness and response time, making it difficult to drive safely.” The AASM statement says that drowsy driving causes more than 100,000 crashes and 1,550 deaths on American roads each year, adding that the tragedy is “a reminder that healthy sleep is essential for driver alertness and roadway safety.”
“Rolling down the windows or turning up the music will do little to increase your alertness while driving,” adds Morgenthaler. “You can drink coffee for a short-term energy boost, but if you catch yourself drifting into other lanes or nodding off, it’s absolutely time to pull over and take a nap. There is no substitute for sleep.”
American Trucking Association (ATA) president and CEO Bill Graves issued a statement that says, “Fatigue, while an important safety issue, is a causal factor in less than 10% of all truck crashes, and ATA believes we need to do far more to address the other 90% of crashes.”
Graves also says, “The issue of highway safety, and in particular the safety of the trucking industry, has been at the forefront of the national conversation for several days due to a high profile incident in New Jersey.
“First, as always, our thoughts are with the victims of this tragedy and their families. Every crash on our highways is a tragedy and that’s why the industry places safety as our highest priority.
“Second, I want to address several issues regarding the hours-of-service rules and driver fatigue generally. The hours-of-service rules–whether they are the current regulations, the pre-2013 rules, or the rules with changes we hope to see as a result of Congressional action–only place limits on driving and on-duty time and require that between work periods drivers take a minimum of 10 consecutive hours off-duty. But they do not dictate what drivers do during that off-duty period. No rule can address what a driver does in his or her off-duty time. The industry—including ATA, our member fleets, our state associations, and the millions of safe, professional truck drivers on the road today—strongly believes that drivers must take advantage of their off-duty periods for rest and that drivers should not drive if they are fatigued
“Good public policy and good regulations stem from good research and good data. This is why we support a suspension of the controversial and unjustified restrictions on use of the hours-of-service restart provision, which alters driver sleep patterns and puts more trucks on the road during more risky daylight hours. It is also why we support mandatory use of electronic logging devices to track drivers’ compliance with the hours of service requirements. In addition, it is why we support more aggressive enforcement of traffic laws to combat distracted and aggressive driving as well as restricting the speeds of large trucks to 65 mph with mandatory electronic speed governors.”
Walmart, the driver’s employer, has released two press statements on its site. Walmart spokesperson Brooke Buchanan’s statement says, “With regards to news reports that suggest Mr. Roper was working for 24 hours, it is our belief that Mr. Roper was operating within the federal hours of service regulations. The details are the subject of the ongoing investigation and we are cooperating fully with the appropriate law enforcement agencies. The investigation is ongoing and unfortunately we can’t comment further on the specifics. Federal law requires drivers to work no more than 14 hours for any shift and 11 hours of driving.”
Walmart president and CEO Bill Simon says in his statement, “We’re praying for the family and friends of the passenger who lost his life in the terrible accident in New Jersey. Our hearts go out to everyone involved and we hope those who were injured get the care that they need and make a full recovery.
“This is a tragedy and we are profoundly sorry that one of our trucks was involved. We are working quickly to understand what happened and are cooperating fully with law enforcement to aid their investigation.
“The facts are continuing to unfold. If it’s determined that our truck caused the accident, Walmart will take full responsibility.
“Safety is our absolute highest priority, but that is no comfort whatsoever to the families and friends who are suffering today. We offer them our deepest condolences. We can’t change what happened, but we will do what’s right for the family of the victim and the survivors in the days and weeks ahead.”