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The recent truck accident involving comedian Tracy Morgan has again focused attention on the problem of sleep deprivation among truck drivers. Prosecutors say that the truck driver whose tractor-trailer slammed into the van in which Morgan was a passenger had not slept in over 24 hours. Morgan was critically injured and another passenger was killed.

Federal officials say that drowsy driving is a leading cause of motor vehicle crashes and highway fatalities. Driver fatigue has been identified as the cause of deadly accidents in Madison County, Ohio, Austin, Texas and Marseilles, Illinois in just one month. More than 30,000 Americans die on highways in this country every year. Large trucks are involved in one of every seven highway deaths.

Last year, federal regulations were introduced that reduced the maximum workweek for truckers from 82 hours to 70 hours. Drivers who log 70 hours in a week can return to work only after a mandatory 34-hour rest period. The regulations also require that the rest period include two periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. Drivers are not permitted to drive more than 11 hours per day and must have at least a 30 minute break.

The trucking industry is attempting to have the nighttime-break restrictions repealed. Legislators who favor repealing the nighttime break rule state that the administration failed to take into consideration the fact that the new rules put more trucks on the highway during peak traffic hours. Truckers believe they should be given flexibility and not told when to rest. Some in the trucking industry report that the hours regulations have decreased productivity by putting more trucks on the road in heavy traffic.

Fred McLuckie, director of the department of federal legislation at the Teamsters union, believes repealing the nighttime break rule would be a dangerous setback. He stated that fatigue has been underreported at accident scenes for a long time and that the problem has increased in recent years.

“Congestion on the highways is greater than ever, there are more vehicles on the road than ever before, and drivers have to be more attentive than ever. Fatigue is even more of a concern now than it has been, and drivers need to get proper rest to do the job that they do,” said McLuckie.

Henry Jasny, vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, stated that it is often difficult to determine that driver fatigue caused an accident. He believes that drivers will spend longer weeks on the road and become more fatigued if the nighttime break rule is repealed.

“If it weren’t for the fact that an entertainer, Tracy Morgan, was the victim of a crash, this would have gone unnoticed, but it happens day in and day out,” said Jasney.

Drowsy driving is a much greater and more common problem than most people realize. Drivers who begin their week with just one nighttime rest period instead of two were more prone to lapses in attention and to drift from their lanes of travel while driving. A 1990 study by the National Transportation Safety Board of 182 large truck accidents in which the truck drivers died, determined that driver fatigue was a factor in 31 percent of the accidents – more than alcohol or drugs.

The truck accident attorneys at Clark, Perdue & List have successfully represented individuals who have been injured or killed in accidents caused by large trucks. If you have been in an accident, contact Clark, Perdue & List.