By Keith Laing - 06/19/14 11:18 AM EDT
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said Thursday that the truck driver involved in a crash that critically injured comedian Tracy Morgan was traveling 20 miles over the speed limit at the time of the accident.
The NTSB released its preliminary report on its investigation of the New Jersey Turnpike crash, which comes as Congress debates controversial changes to truck driver scheduling rules.
The accident investigation agency said the freight truck, which was being operated on behalf of Wal-Mart, was traveling 65 miles per hour in a 45-mile speed zone at the time of the crash.
The accident that injured the popular comedian occurred around 1 a.m. on June 7 in New Jersey, when a bus carrying his entourage was struck by a freight truck. Morgan has been hospitalized since the incident and another passenger in his bus was killed.
The driver of the truck, Kevin Roper, reportedly told police he was awake for 24 hours at the time of the crash, according to reports.
Roper was arrested and charged with death by auto and four counts of assault by auto.
Lawmakers in Washington have considered weakening some federal regulations on trucker scheduling intended to prevent fatigued driving, including a provision that requires truckers to take time off between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. on consecutive nights before they start a new work week.
The NTSB said Thursday that its preliminary investigation showed Roper was just within existing rules that limit truck drivers to 11 hours per day on the road and 14 hours per day on the clock.
"According to electronic driver log information, the Peterbilt combination vehicle driver had logged 9 hours 37 minutes of driving time when the crash occurred," the agency said. "With respect to the maximum 14-hour consecutive duty period for commercial motor vehicle drivers, the driver had logged 13 hours 32 minutes at the time of the collision."
Opponents of the proposed changes to the truck scheduling rules argue that the accident involving Morgan illustrates why the requirements are still needed.
“We certainly hope this brings attention to the problem of overly tired drivers,” Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety Vice President of Government Affairs Cathy Chase told The Hill days after the crash.
“It’s an unfortunate example of what’s happening on our roads, and it’s going to get worse if this amendment stays in the bill,” Chase continued.
The trucking industry has argued that the overnight scheduling rules resulted in more trucks being on the road during daytime hours, when traffic is heavier and trips take longer to complete.
American Trucking Association Vice President for Safety Policy Dave Osiecki told The Hill last week that it was too soon to draw conclusions about the relationship between the proposed rule changes and the crash involving Tracy Morgan.
“All the facts are not known," he said. "Anyone inferring the proposal had anything to do with the crash is simply inaccurate, based on what we have heard in the press.
"Truck drivers have to come to work rested and they cannot operate fatigued," Osiecki continued. "To suggest that there’s even a link as some have done is really out of bounds."
The amendment at issue, which is sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), would eliminate a current requirement that truck drivers take breaks between 1 and 5 a.m. on consecutive nights before they can work again. The amendment would also rescind a limit on the number of times truck drivers can declare they are starting a new work week.
Department of Transportation rules that would be left in place limit truck drivers to working 70 hours within one week. They would have to take an immediate 34-hour break before they can get back behind the wheel and they can only do so once every 168 hours, or one week.