It has been very disturbing, but not surprising, to see this week’s news that a Wal-Mart tractor-trailer driver was desperately lacking sleep when he caused last year’s horrific wreck that killed one man and severely injured comedian and popular television star Tracy Morgan.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report, Wal-Mart big rig driver Kevin Roper had not slept in 28 hours and had been on the road for 14 hours when he struck a limousine van occupied by Morgan and several others on the New Jersey Turnpike last June. The catastrophic impact killed comedian James McNair and caused Morgan to suffer significant brain trauma and various additional physical injuries that he’s still trying to overcome today.
Photo courtesy of Peter Kramer/NBC
The limo reportedly was sitting in near-standstill traffic when Roper hit it from behind because he was so tired he didn’t notice that other vehicles had slowed in a work zone. Wal-Mart and the trucking companies that deliver its goods regularly spend countless dollars defending lawsuits where other drivers have suffered serious personal injuries or died. However, the world’s largest retailer quickly settled with McNair’s family for $10 million in March before reaching confidential settlements with Morgan and other crash victims, which prevented any of the victims’ claims from ever reaching a jury.
As we have discussed here previously, driver fatigue is the root cause for nearly 40 percent of the approximately 4,000 highway crashes involving semis, tractor-trailers and other heavy trucks that take place in the U.S. every year. Many times, that fatigue can be attributed to drivers or their employers wanting to log more hours and miles in order to make more money. Before the fatal crash, Roper had driven more than 800 miles overnight from his Georgia home to Delaware, clocking in for work with zero sleep.
From NBCNews.com: NTSB Animation Shows Truck Hitting Morgan Limo
Perhaps even more distressing, the NTSB report found that Roper traveled nearly a half mile while driving at 65 mph in the 45-mph work zone before the crash. Had Roper been driving at the posted speed and applied his brakes at the same time, he would have stopped before hitting the limo, the report concluded.
The NTSB report includes new safety recommendations for various groups, including the Federal Highway Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Ironically, those recommendations come at a time when federal legislators are considering a funding bill that actually would allow big rig drivers to spend more time on the road rather than requiring them to get more rest.
Since we now know what caused the terrible crash involving Tracy Morgan and his friends, the next question is whether our government or the trucking industry itself will do anything meaningful to stop it from happening again.