Unions: Tracy Morgan crash findings should be a 'wake-up call'

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The AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department said Monday that the National Transportation Safety Board's (NTSB) findings about a crash that severely injured comedian Tracy Morgan should be a "wake-up" for federal regulators. 

The NTSB ruled last week that Morgan's June 2014 crash, which involved a collision between his limousine and a truck, was caused by a combination of excessive speed and driver fatigue.

AFL-CIO TTD President Ed Wytkind said the agency's findings show that the federal government needs to act to prevent truck and bus drivers from driving while tired.  

"While the Tracy Morgan crash has attracted national attention because it involves a well-known comedian, a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report confirms what we already know: we have a driver fatigue crisis," Wytkind wrote in a blog post on the labor group’s website. 

"Understandably, Morgan’s celebrity gave this particular story and the NTSB’s findings significant national attention," he continued. "However, incidents like this occur far more often than they should, and rarely get the attention they deserve. Nearly 4,000 people lose their lives each year in crashes involving large trucks, and sadly, tired drivers are routinely at the center of investigations." 

Morgan has made very few public appearances since the crash, which touched off a debate in Washington about overnight scheduling rules for truck drivers that still has not been settled a year later. 

The comedian was critically injured in the accident, which occurred in New Jersey when a limo bus carrying his entourage was struck by a freight truck operated for Wal-Mart. Another passenger in Morgan’s bus was killed.  

The accident occurred as Congress was debating changes to federal regulations for truck-driver scheduling.

At issue was an attempt by lawmakers to roll back federal requirements that drivers take time off on two consecutive nights between the hours of 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., as part of a rule that drivers wait at least 34 hours before starting a new shift.

Trucking groups argued that the rules resulted in more trucks being on the highway during daylight hours, when traffic was heavier. They added that some truckers were forced to take two days off, depending on when they started the 34-hour window.

The driver of the truck in the 2014 accident, Kevin Roper, has been charged with death by auto and four counts of assault by auto after he told police he was awake for 24 hours at the time of the crash.  

The AFL-CIO's Wytkind said the bus industry in particular is susceptible to tired drivers being on the road. 

"Bus drivers face pressure to forgo needed breaks and drive excessive hours in order to complete trips in tight time frames and meet employer demands," he said. "This pressure is exacerbated by low wages, forcing drivers to choose between proper rest and a paycheck." 

Wytkind pitched a plan to allow bus drivers to earn overtime pay for extra time worked as a way to cut down on the number of tired commercial drivers on the road. 

"The good news is we can improve the standard of living for bus drivers by closing the loophole that prevents them from earning overtime pay," he said. 

"Unfortunately, the policies that don’t allow overtime protections in the motorcoach industry only incentivize the creation of cut-throat operators whose profit motives often trump quality and safe service," Wytkind continued. "This must stop. The sweatshops-on-wheels business model that has become so prevalent in this industry will continue to force tired bus drivers to work excessive hours, putting the traveling public and drivers at risk."