The highly publicized trucking catastrophe that left Tracy Morgan with a severe brain injury and killed his friend, James McNair, was settled with Wal-Mart for an undisclosed amount, but the incident sheds light on a dangerous culture in which drivers are continually pushing the limits of sleep deprivation to maximize miles.
Authorities concluded the accident happened as the truck driver was starting a new delivery after driving 14 hours overnight, and having been awake more than 28 hours. Federal law requires drivers to work no more than 14 hours for any shift, with only 11 of those hours spent driving.
“One tragic aspect of roadway death is that so often they could have been prevented,” said NTSB Chairman Chris Hart. “Fatigue management programs can help.”
At the time of the crash, Wal-Mart said they did not have a fatigue management program in place that could have improved its ability to monitor its drivers and educate them about the risks of fatigue. However, the Associated Press reports that the defendant’s driving record exhibited an alarmingly unsafe history full of red flags Wal-Mart should have noticed. In the 15 weeks the driver worked for Wal-Mart, investigators showed that he had already racked up nine “critical event reports,” and had been involved in a preventable accident, causing him to lose his safety bonus.
This is not an isolated incident and it’s nothing new, wrote Attorney Steve Gursten, one of the nation’s top trial attorneys handling serious truck accident injury and wrongful death cases, and a member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable.
“Truckers driving over mandatory hours of service is a problem that permeates the entire trucking industry today, where companies further incentivize drivers to violate these laws by paying by the mile instead of by the hour. Safety directors often look the other way. Dispatch ignores how long these drivers are on the roads. It’s a serious safety problem everyone knows about, yet very little is done to correct it,” Gursten said.
Corporations like Wal-Mart have the technology to monitor and prevent sleep-deprived drivers risking the safety of others on the roads, but most companies rely solely on the trucker’s honesty in logbooks.
“For years, I’ve had truck drivers in depositions who caused serious injuries refer to their log books as “lie books,” explains Gursten.
That’s why High Impact built I.L.I.E.D ., which translates these “lie books” into a visually interactive presentation that compares the driver’s log to its actual GPS data, chronologically tallies violations and discrepancies, and illustrates the complete list of red flags that could have prevented an unsafe driver from being on the road, had they not been ignored by safety administrators. You can see a simple version of the I.L.I.E.D. in the video below.
Had Tracy Morgan’s civil case gone to trial, the I.L.I.E.D. would have shown the truck driver’s patterns leading up to the crash, when he was on the phone, when and where he broke the rules, and how truthful he was about driving when he claims to have been resting.
Naturally, the celebrity appeal of this story gave the NTSB’s findings in this case a lot of national attention. Lawsuits, criminal charges, allegedly tainted jury pools… It certainly got my attention. But, trucker fatigue has been plaguing the industry for some time, and the attention is long overdue. The FMCSA recently granting exemptions to Hours of Service Rules, and the ongoing opposition of trucking companies to welcome safety regulations, make it seems like we’re only graying the area.
I.L.I.E.D.TM is a groundbreaking new tool, one of many in High Impact’s impressive collection, that will help trial attorneys expose the truth, and solicit the change necessary to prevent fatigue from getting behind 18 wheels.
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