Trucking industry defends safety record after Tracy Morgan crash

Trucking industry defends safety record after Tracy Morgan crash
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The group that lobbies for truck companies in Washington is defending the trucking industry's safety record amid criticism stemming from a 2014 crash that severely injured comedian Tracy Morgan. 

The Arlington, Va.-based American Trucking Association published a response online to a New York Times op-ed critical of the industry.

"It is unfortunate that the Times ran an opinion column this Saturday titled The Trucks are Killing Us, without properly vetting the statements contained in it," ATA President Bill Graves wrote in a response that rejected by the Times

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"Despite the author’s implied credentials, there are several falsehoods, both implied and intentional, in the text that deserve a response," Graves continued. 

The author of the piece, Howard Ambrason, is a former ATA executive who served from 1998 to 2004. He argued in an Aug. 21 piece that "accidents like the one that critically injured the comedian Tracy Morgan, killed his friend and fellow comedian James McNair, known as Jimmy Mack, and hurt eight others on the New Jersey Turnpike last year are going to continue to happen unless Congress stops coddling the trucking industry.

"More people will be killed in traffic accidents involving large trucks this year than have died in all of the domestic commercial airline crashes over the past 45 years, if past trends hold true," Ambrason wrote. "And still Congress continues to do the trucking industry’s bidding by frustrating the very regulators the government has empowered to oversee motor carriers." 

Federal investigators have ruled 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.

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 ATA's Graves said Thursday that it is unfair to blame trucking companies for the actions of drivers. 

"Per the most recent federal data available, upwards of two-thirds of all serious crashes involving large trucks are caused by the actions of someone other than the professional driver. Speeding, impaired driving and other aggressive behaviors by non-commercial drivers cause far more truck crashes than do fatigue or other issues cited by the author. 

He added that "Mr. Abramson also cites an oft-debunked canard about Congress’ change 'allow[ing] truck drivers to work 82 hours a week, up from the current 70 hours over eight days.' 

"[The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association] itself has said such an extreme work schedule would only be possible in 'an imaginary world of perfect logistics,'" Graves wrote. "In the real world the average driver works 52 hours in a week — a reasonable total when compared to the average American workweek in today’s modern economy."