A tragic trucking accident has caught the nation’s attention in part because the accident involved well-known comedians. The Walmart truck crashed into a limousine van and killed comedian James McNair, called “Jimmy Mack,” and critically injured SNL alum Tracy Morgan.
The tragedy called attention to a serious matter, which is long haul truck drivers who drive too many hours and become sleepy behind the wheel. This accident occurred about 1:00 a.m. on the New Jersey Turnpike about 45 miles from New York City. The celebrities were returning to New York City, from a comedy show in Delaware. The truck driver failed to notice traffic slowing in front of him and tried to swerve out of the way but it was too late. He slammed into the comedians’ 2012 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and set off a chain reaction involving four other vehicles.
County prosecutors in New Jersey alleged that the driver was operating the truck recklessly and allegedly had gone without sleep for more than 24 hours. He was charged with one count of vehicular homicide and one count of assault by auto.
Walmart pledged in a media statement that it would take responsibility if it was shown its truck was at fault. But a spokesman for Walmart told CNN its truck driver did not break any laws. The statement said the company believed the driver was “operating within the federal hours of service regulations.”
Long haul drivers are supposed to take 10-hour breaks, and they’re not supposed to drive more than 11 hours during a 14 hour period.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the accident. The NTSB told CNN:
“As a general practice, the NTSB will look at the driver’s activities during the days leading up to the accident, including any commutes. We have requested the driver’s log and any supporting documentation, such as fuel receipts, which we will review to determine whether the driver was or was not in violation of drivers’ hours of service requirements.”
The NTSB is concerned enough to issue a statement noting that the number of fatal accidents involving big rigs has been rising. In 2012, there were over 300,000 large truck crashes, which led to 3900 fatalities and 100,000 injuries. Of those killed, 73% were in vehicles other than the trucks.