There’s a movement in popular culture to make the rich and famous more relatable by reminding regular folks that “celebrities are just like us.” Many media outlets share pictures of the stars doing ordinary things – pumping their own gas, wearing flip-flops, shopping at Target. They are also not immune from getting hurt. When they do, it often makes headlines, which brings attention to matters that affect us all.
In recent memory, there may be no more humanizing incident than Tracy Morgan’s car accident last June. He was left with several broken bones and a severe brain injury after the limo van he was riding in slowed for construction and was rear-ended by a Walmart truck on the New Jersey Turnpike. Four other passengers were also injured, one fatally. While most people don’t frequently have chauffeurs, any of us could have been hit by that truck whose driver, it turns out, was speeding and poorly rested.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded last month that the truck driver was driving 65 mph in a work zone with a posted 45 mph limit and failed to brake in time for slow-moving traffic. More troubling was the determination that he had been awake for 28 consecutive hours before the crash, but did not technically break any industry rules because he had not exceeded allowable work hours. Instead, the driver was extremely fatigued because he driven 12 hours from his home to his work location BEFORE he had even started his 14-hour shift. This discovery led Walmart to begin requiring drivers to live within 250 miles of their job or be at that starting point at least nine hours before their shift. Walmart also developed a “fatigue management program” addressing the need to report to work rested.
Rules introduced in 2013 restricted the maximum average work week for truck drivers to 70 hours and mandated a 34-hour resting period that had to include at least two off-duty periods between 1:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. But the trucking industry managed to get these new nighttime-break regulations frozen until further studies were conducted. The suspension is currently still in place. While safety advocates believe that sleepy or drowsy driving is an extremely common problem, the challenge is proving it. With no blood test for determining fatigue as well as liability concerns over acknowledging being sleepy, fatigue is vastly underreported in crash investigations.
Although the accident was caused by the truck driver’s behavior, it is worth noting that the severity of the injuries was increased by the lack of seat belt use. Despite New Jersey law requiring all occupants to wear seat belts, only one of the seven people in the limo van was buckled up. In 2014, the national seat belt use rate was 87 percent, while the Georgia rate was significantly better at 97.3 percent. Seat belts are important safety devices and could’ve made a big difference for the victims in this accident.
At the Mann Law Firm, we have successfully represented victims throughout Georgia who have been seriously hurt by negligent truck drivers. We have also assisted families who have lost loved ones in truck accidents. For advice on how to proceed next, or if you have any questions about this topic, call us at (478) 742-3381 or submit our online form.