Three days after a tractor-trailer crashed into comedian Tracy Morgan’s limousine bus, seriously injuring him and killing another passenger, road safety advocates used the New Jersey accident to attack a proposal by Maine Sen. Susan Collins to amend recent reforms aimed at keeping sleepy truckers off the roads.

“It’s so sad that it takes another tragedy,” said Daphne Izer, 68, of Lisbon, who founded Parents Against Tired Truckers two decades ago. “It’s what we always said: That’s what it’s going to take – some congressman’s son or a famous person to get killed – for something to happen.”

Izer’s son and three of his friends were killed on the Maine Turnpike in 1993 when the driver of a Wal-Mart truck fell asleep at the wheel and hit their vehicle. The truck driver had exceeded the number of weekly driving hours allowed by regulations.

Joining Izer in opposing Collins’ amendment, which would suspend portions of recently enacted trucking regulations for one year, are the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the Truck Safety Coalition, the Teamsters and Joan Claybrook, former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“This is a major moment really to stop the trucking industry,” Claybrook told reporters in a conference call, The Associated Press reported. “It seems no matter what we do in terms of pushing to get safer trucks on highways, the trucking industry uses its clout to either undo those improvements that we do get or stops any that we’re trying to push.”

In a post on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s website, Anne Ferro, administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, wrote that regulators carefully considered the public safety and health risks of long work hours when they created the new rules.


Ferro said an analysis showed that the reforms will save 19 lives and prevent about 1,400 crashes and 560 injuries each year. She said the new rules affect drivers who work the “most extreme schedules,” fewer than 15 percent of all truck drivers.

Ferro recounted what happened to Christina and Gary Mahaney of Maine, whose 5-year-old son was killed in July 2011 when a trucker dozed off and crashed a logging truck on their front lawn in Jackman, spilling logs into their home and killing their son, Liam, who was on the couch with his parents.

“The Mahaneys are still struggling to find justice for the death of their son,” Ferro wrote.

Collins’ spokesman, Kevin Kelley, said opponents are misinformed about her amendment to a larger transportation bill. Kelley said the amendment is intended to improve safety by making it easier for truckers to avoid driving when traffic is heaviest.

“To infer that the proposal being considered by the U.S. Senate had anything to do with the (Morgan) crash is completely inaccurate because the driver’s alleged actions would still be illegal even under the proposed changes,” he said in an email to the Portland Press Herald.

Authorities say Kevin Roper, the driver of the Wal-Mart truck that crashed Saturday in Cranbury Township, New Jersey, apparently failed to slow for traffic ahead and then swerved to avoid a collision. They say his rig smashed into the back of Morgan’s chauffeured limo bus, killing comedian James “Jimmy Mack” McNair and injuring Morgan and three other people.


Roper has been charged with death by auto and four counts of assault by auto. According to the criminal complaint, Roper drove the truck “without having slept for a period in excess of 24 hours, resulting in a motor vehicle accident.”

Federal regulations now require truck drivers who work the maximum of 70 hours in a week to take a 34-hour break during the week that includes two consecutive nights off. The earliest a driver can get back on the road after the break is 5 a.m.

That rule, and other changes to the hours-of-operation rules for truckers, took effect in July 2013, after years of study and legal challenges by industry groups and advocates for highway safety.

Collins, the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee for transportation, said regulators failed to consider that more trucks would be on the road during peak traffic hours. Her amendment would let drivers take more than one 34-hour break in a seven-day period and remove the requirement for two consecutive nights off, allowing driving at night after the required period of rest.

Collins’ proposal would not change the mandatory 30-minute rest break during a shift, or the total number of hours a driver can legally work in a day, said Brian Parke, president of the Maine Motor Transport Association, which represents the trucking industry in Maine.

While the amendment might save the trucking industry some money by giving drivers more flexibility in managing their schedules, he said, its primary purpose is to improve safety by allowing truckers to make more of their trips when fewer cars are on the road.


“Cost hasn’t been one of the main reasons for pursuing this,” he said. “It’s about driver safety.”

The new federal rules will cost the trucking industry $376 million a year, and their customers will pay increased costs, according to the American Transportation Research Institute, a Virginia-based group that represents the trucking industry.

In October, Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, proposed legislation that would have delayed the new rules until their impact was studied by the Government Accountability Office.

In a media release at the time, Michaud said many truckers travel overnight to avoid traffic. He said the new rules “push drivers to get back on the road during the morning rush hour, increase road congestion and jeopardize safety.”

Izer, with Parents Against Tired Truckers, said Collins’ amendment would allow drivers to manipulate their schedules to drive as many as 82 hours a week, 12 hours more than the current limit.

“Fatigue is a problem. This amendment will make it worse and lives will be at risk,” she said.

Collins’ amendment is attached to a Senate bill appropriating transportation funds for fiscal year 2015, which starts Oct. 1. The bill has been endorsed unanimously by the Senate Appropriations Committee. It still must clear the full Senate and then be reconciled with whatever the House does on appropriations, leaving plenty of chances for opponents to seek changes.

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