First, I would like to add my condolences to the family of James McNair and my prayers for Tracy Morgan’s recovery. Mainstream media, along with truck industry outlets such trucking blogs, newspapers and radio stations have given us many opinion on this crash, in which a WalMart driver apparently rear-ended a Sprinter when the tractor trailer driver had gone 25 hours without sleep.
For those of you who are not safety advocates nor involved in the trucking industry or its lobby, I can tell you that an unfortunate crash redefines ongoing safety issues that were going on well before this crash. On the safety advocacy side–and I am a safety advocate–there are many of us who point out that this is exactly what happens all the time but doesn’t get publicity beyond local media when it doesn’t involve a celebrity.
At the same time, I have heard the responses of truck drivers and the industry who cringe and say this is not representative of the industry. Who’s right? I would like to suggest that both “sides” are and that, in fact, there are no sides. Trucking is essential to the lifestyle we all enjoy in the United States. Most truck drivers are professionals who take safety seriously and who should be proud to be part of the backbone of our nation. However, out of the roughly half million motor carriers and 3 million truck drivers, there are a minority who give a bad name to the rest of the industry and who should be taken off the road for the sake of safety and because they reflect poorly on other truck drivers.
Disclaimer: I handle high profile and catastrophic truck accident cases across the country on behalf of families and victims of truck crashes, so I see some of the worst of the worst drivers and companies–drivers on crystal meth behind the wheel of gas tankers, motor carriers who refuse to keep log books and so on. There are some people in the industry who believe there should be no regulations. I took the deposition of a trucking expert hired by a motor carrier last week who told me under oath that he believes there should be no restrictions on hours of service and that truck drivers should be able to drive as long as they want.
I don’t blame safety advocates for using the Tracy Morgan crash to advocate for safety. I certainly will. Hopefully, there will be some good that can come from this collision if it can help save others’ lives. At the same time, we must always be careful to remember not to paint all truck drivers with the same brush. I am very curious how a large company like WalMart ends up with a driver with so little sleep. Do their dispatchers track hours of service? Do they have a fatigue management program that is effective and consistent with the standards in the North American Fatigue Management Program? Their are many questions yet to be answered.
I have always maintained that one of the most important trucking safety items are electronic log devices, also know as electronic log books. Before implementing new safety regulations, it is important to be able to monitor and enforce the current hours of service rules and to give motor carriers and the FMCSA the tools necessary to spot the truck drivers who cheat and differentiate them from those who follow the rules. I speak to many safe truck drivers and companies who are in favor of electronic log books because they, too, want to get the unsafe drivers off the road who jeopardize everybody’s safety, including other truck drivers–because there are many “truck on truck” collisions that occur every year.