By now you’ve probably heard that Tracy Morgan was critically injured in a car accident in New Jersey early Saturday morning. Morgan was in a van that was struck by a tractor-trailer on the New Jersey Turnpike. The collision took the life of comedian James McNair. As of Monday morning, Morgan is responsive but still listed in critical condition.
The driver of the truck that hit Morgan’s van has been charged with vehicular homicide and assault by auto. After turning himself in to police, he was released on a $50,000 bail. He had been awake for more than 24 consecutive hours prior to the crash according to the criminal complaint filed in the case. Apparently he didn’t see that traffic ahead had slowed, and then was unable to stop in time to avoid hitting the van. The impact caused the van to spin and then roll over. Four other vehicles were affected, though no one outside of the van was injured.
What you probably haven’t heard yet, is that there are already people coming out of the woodwork to defend the driver and to continue to press for deregulation of the trucking industry.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson discussed the accident on Sunday morning, and argued that the truck driver responsible for the crash should not be sentenced to any jail time. The reason? Falling asleep isn’t a crime, and so, apparently neither should falling asleep at the wheel be.
“I’m really struck by the idea that someone who falls asleep — which is something that everybody does every day, not necessarily considered an act of recklessness — does it unintentionally, nods off is a criminal,” Carlson said.
The problem is this: if you’re driving an 18-wheel tractor-trailer and you fall asleep at the wheel, you’re putting the lives of everyone around you at risk. Its criminally reckless, and in this case, it lead to the death of one man, and the critical injury of another. Was it malicious? No. But unless he passed out for some reason other than exhaustion, he drove that truck knowing his physical and mental states of being.
Carlson’s minimization of the harm done by this accident may have to do with the fact that just days prior the US Senate Appropriations Committee passed an amendment removing the requirement that truck drivers get at least 34 consecutive hours of rest, including two nights, before beginning each work week. The regulation was put in place just last year in an effort to reduce driver fatigue.Anne Ferro, Administrator for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration pointed out in a blog post that driver fatigue is a leading cause in large truck crashes.
“We carefully considered the public safety and health risks of long work hours, and solicited input from everyone who has a stake in this important issue, including victims’ advocates, truck drivers and companies,” she wrote in the post. “Suspending the current Hours-of-Service safety rules will expose families and drivers to greater risk every time they’re on the road.”
Tell James McNair’s family that. Tell the families of the more than 1,550 who die every year on our roads due to sleep deprivation.
Of course, it should come as no surprise that there are groups seeking the total deregulation of the trucking industry, despite the fact that common sense regulations like sleep requirements demonstrably save lives. The Heritage Foundation has been calling for the lifting of trucking rules for nearly 30 years now. If trucking companies can save a little money, and businesses can get a little richer, who cares the roads are a little more dangerous, right? Meanwhile, we lost McNair and wait for the recovery of Tracy Morgan.
H/T: Huffington Post, CNN, Fox News
Joshua Dieker is a BNR contributing writer, campaign consultant, community organizer and dad. Find him on twitter: @jdieker