NTSB: Tracy Morgan crash caused by speed, driver fatigue

NTSB: Tracy Morgan crash caused by speed, driver fatigue
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The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is blaming a crash in which comedian Tracy Morgan was severely injured on excessive speed and driver fatigue.

NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart said during a hearing on Wednesday that the 2014 accident was caused by a truck driver who was driving too fast and working too long. 

"The accident began when a truck-tractor and a semitrailer, traveling at 65 miles per hour in a 45 miles-per-hour work zone on the New Jersey Turnpike, encountered traffic that was moving less than 10 miles per hour due to the road construction ahead," Hart said. "The driver, already going too fast, was slow to react. The truck struck the rear of a limo van at between 47 and 53 miles per hour, starting a chain-reaction crash that affected 21 people in six vehicles."

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"The driver in the Cranbury crash had been on duty for 13 ½ hours of a 14-hour duty day, with more driving planned," Hart continued. "He had been awake more than 28 hours when his truck struck the limo van, including an overnight drive from his residence in Georgia to the distribution center at which he was based." 

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 June 2014 accident, which occurred in New Jersey when a 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 NTSB's Hart said Tuesday that the limousine van that Morgan was traveling in was not properly outfitted with safety equipment, which exposed its passengers to more harm in the accident. 

"Because the limo-van interior had been customized, the passengers in Cranbury had no available exits until emergency responders removed parts of a plywood panel that had been installed between the passenger compartment and the cab as part of the customization," he said. "Their single means of exiting the limo van, a sliding door, had become inoperable in the crash." 

Hart added that the limousine's passengers had not been properly brief on the safety features of the vehicle and were not wearing seat belts. 

"Such a safety briefing could have instructed passengers [in] this limo van on the use of seat belts and head restraints and explained emergency egress from the vehicle," he said. 

"One tragic aspect of roadway deaths is that so often they could have been prevented," the NTSB chief added.