Road Safe America Claims Morgan Crash Puts Spotlight on Truck Safety

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Highway safety advocates acknowledge crash hurting Tracy Morgan makes the subject of truck safety even more important today.

“The FMCSA has a difficult job weighing the Congressional mandate to reduce fatalities without seriously curtailing business,”

Road Safe America joins in mourning the death on June 7th of entertainer James McNair in New Jersey and praying for the full recovery of former Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock star Tracy Morgan. According to The New York Times, these men as well as three others were injured when their luxury van, stopped in a traffic jam, was struck from behind by a tractor-trailer rig. Police say the truck’s driver – now charged with vehicular homicide and assault by auto – has admitted to having been awake for more than 24 hours before the crash, fueling concerns that fatigue led directly to the tragedy.

We obviously never wanted a notorious crash to be necessary to bring the lack of trucking safety to the forefront. But the New Jersey collision and carnage has done just that and it is time for policy makers across America to seriously address the issue.

Quite unexpectedly, some members of the commercial trucking industry have actually inferred that rules imposed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration add to the mortality rate on our highways. Road Safety America totally disagrees.

Statistics prove that FMCSA rules work; they have saved many lives in truck/car collisions over the years, but much more must be done. Research and resulting data on the sleep habits of drivers has prompted the FMCSA to invoke new regulations that limit the number of hours a professional driver can be on the road without a reasonable rest break. New rules went into effect in July, 2013 mandating specific rest periods including a 34 hour restart after seven days of driving. This restart period must include two consecutive overnight rest periods. Sadly, these changes are not favored by many in the trucking industry, fearing a loss of productivity and profit. However, it should be noted that these complaints are coming while the industry is enjoying its most profitable time in years.

Before these new rules took place, a 2006 Status Report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that 21% of professional truck drivers admitted to having fallen asleep at the wheel at least once in the past month.

“The FMCSA has a difficult job weighing the Congressional mandate to reduce fatalities without seriously curtailing business,” said Steve Owings, Co-Founder and President of Road Safe America. “But with an average of 11 Americans dying each day from heavy commercial truck/car crashes, decisions must always be made on the side of safety. And frankly, most safety measures actually also increase profitability for the trucking industry.”

Road Safe America literature points out that the most common pay method for long-haul truckers is a big part of the problem. Owings said, “Drivers are primarily paid by the mile which clearly encourages them to drive long and fast so that they can make more revenue.”

“The hard-working professionals who drive heavy commercial vehicles, providing backbone service to the overall economy should be paid for every hour they work, regardless of whether their truck is moving. They should also receive over-time pay, from which they are currently exempted. From a safety standpoint, it is difficult to think of any job the public should want to receive over-time payment more than truck drivers on the roads we share. I wonder how many of the trucks that were so prevalent in the awful snow and ice-related crashes and traffic jams of a few months ago, might have been stopped in a safe place instead, if these drivers had been paid by the hour,” Owings asked.

“With the current pay method, per-mile payment and no over-time, there is no deterrent for employers not to work these drivers to death, which is quite literally what happens in too many cases.” Mr. Owings concluded.

Road Safe America is dedicated to reducing the injuries and deaths resulting from collisions between tractor-trailer trucks and passenger vehicles by effecting change to improve safety on America’s Roadways. RSA is supported by private donations and have no financial ties to any part of the transportation industry. The organization is not anti-truck or anti-trucker, but pro-safety. Steve Owings and his wife, Susan, founded Road Safe America in 2003 after their son, Cullum, was killed when his car – stopped in an interstate traffic jam – was crushed from behind by a speeding tractor trailer going eight miles per hour above the posted speed limit on cruise control. Since that tragic event, Steve and Susan, through Road Safe America, have worked to make our highways safer for all travelers.

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Tom Hodgson
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