The trucker charged with vehicular homicide in the fatal collision with comedian Tracy Morgan’s limousine had not slept “in excess of 24 hours,” according to a criminal complaint filed Monday.
Kevin Roper, a Wal-Mart employee, was driving the company’s 18-wheeler on the New Jersey turnpike early Saturday morning. He failed to see traffic slowing, state police said, and slammed into Morgan’s limo bus, causing a six-car pileup that killed comic James “Jimmy Mack” McNair and left Morgan and two others with serious injuries. The group was returning from a performance in Delaware.
Wal-Mart issued a statement on Monday affirming their belief that Roper “was operating within the federal hours of service regulations,” which limit work shifts to 14 hours, with only 11 of those behind the wheel.
While the criminal complaint says Roper was awake for 24 hours, it does not say he was working for 24 hours. A trucker who works the 14-hour limit and gets the recommended eight hours of sleep is left with just two hours to attend to family and other responsibilities, not to mention eating and showering.
Under New Jersey law, driving without having slept for 24 hours is considered reckless. Deaths caused in such circumstances are charged as vehicular homicide.
Roper, 35, has been charged with one count of vehicular homicide and three counts of injury by auto and is expected to appear in court on Wednesday.
The crash highlighted the trucking industry’s resistance to tighter restrictions on working hours for drivers.
“Not all motor carries run their drivers to the limit of their hours-of-service, but it does happen,” Teamsters Union President James P. Hoffa wrote in a letter to the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday. “Drivers feel pressure from their employers to drive more than 60-70 hours a week with insufficient rest.” In the letter, Hoffa asked lawmakers to oppose efforts to rollback rest requirements for truckers.
The trucking industry complained last year when new rules gave truckers a 34-hour rest period at the end of a 60-hour work week that is already more demanding than the 40-hour norm for many industries. According to Bloomberg, the industry has said that the rule’s requirements for scheduling rest breaks at night – drivers must be off the road from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. on two consecutive days during that period – forced more trucks onto the road during the day, when traffic is most congested. The new rules were the result of a 15-year effort to reduce fatigue-related highway fatalities.
Days before the fatal crash, it appeared industry complaints had reached the ears of senators on the powerful Appropriations Committee, which voted to suspend the time-off requirement, restoring the 82-hour work week for truckers. The amendment would be attached to a transportation funding bill and require approval by the full Senate and the House to take effect.
“At the heart of this rule is an expectation to minimize the risk when tired drivers are behind the wheel of an 80,000 pound truck,” Anne Ferro, head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, told Bloomberg. “The hours are exceedingly long.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said driving with too little sleep causes more than 100,000 crashes a year, resulting in 40,000 injuries and 1,550 deaths, according to Reuters.
The National Transportation Safety Board noted the number of fatal large truck crashes has steadily risen. In 2012, there were about 333,000 large truck crashes, which resulted in 3,921 deaths and more than 104,000 injuries. Nearly two-thirds of those killed were occupants of a vehicle other than the truck.
Morgan “remains in critical but stable condition,” according to a statement from his publicist. Though Morgan had surgery on his injured leg Sunday, rumors of it being amputated “are completely fabricated,” she added.