A fatal multi-vehicle accident involving six vehicles and one tractor-trailer on the New Jersey Turnpike brought national attention to drowsy professional drivers, the importance of adhering to posted speed limits especially in construction sites, and industry truck regulations. As reported by CBS Philly, early Saturday morning on June 7th at about 1 a.m. in the Cranbury Township of New Jersey a chain reaction crash gravely injured comedian Tracy Morgan fatally injuring his mentor while severely injuring several passengers in other vehicles. According to New Jersey State Police the accident involved professional driver, Kevin Roper, who set off a chain reaction car crash involving 5 other cars in a construction zone, when he allegedly swerved his Wal-Mart tractor-trailer to avoid hitting traffic while on the New Jersey Turnpike. Instead of crashing his truck directly into traffic the driver allegedly swerved and struck the side of a limousine carrying comedian Tracy Morgan and friends. Fellow comedian and mentor James McNair was fatally injured in the crash and pronounced at the scene, several other passengers were listed in critical condition spending several weeks in critical care. Nearly two weeks after the crash Tracy Morgan was released from the Intensive Care Unit at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, for further rehabilitation.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”) regulates nearly every aspect of the trucking industry including the transportation weight limit, maintenance records, blood alcohol levels, and limits the consecutive number of hours a professional driver can log. Shortly after the accident originated many questioned the length of time the driver had been behind the wheel prior to the accident. With one such criminal complaint alleging that the driver had not slept for 24 hours prior to beginning his shift. Investigators are currently reconstructing the hours and actions of the driver prior to the crash. While drowsy driving is a real safety concern, with about 13 percent of all commercial drivers accidents involving fatigued drivers, sleep deprivation may not have been the leading cause of the crash.
Slowed down reactionary traffic may have been an aggravating factor for the Wal-Mart driver on the night of the crash. The National Transportation Safety Board (“NTSB”) released their preliminary report regarding the suspected cause of June 7th crash. Driver Kevin Roper had logged 13 hours and 32 minutes the day of the crash. The federal limit on consecutive hours that a commercial driver can log is 14 hours; therefore Kevin Roper had not surpassed the legal limit at the time of the crash. Far more interesting was the reported speed that the Peterbilt combination truck was traveling 60 seconds prior to the crash. According to the truck’s electronic engine-control system the truck was traveling 65 mph prior to striking Tracy Morgan’s limousine. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. spokesperson, following the preliminary report’s findings stated that their fleet of trucks are all equipped with devices that limit the maximum speed of their trucks to 65 mph, therefore the driver was traveling at the maximum speed allowable at the time of the crash.
Further troubling was where the driver was traveling which was in a construction zone at the time of the crash. The driver was traveling 20 mph above the posted speed limit. Construction, and subsequently construction zones and their lethargic traffic are a necessary evil for maintaining roadways. In this case a road-widening project that began in 2009 limited the speed and funneled traffic from three lanes down to one. According to the NTSB report, lane closure and speed reduction signs were clearly posted prior to the lane shift. As was the case here, large truck accidents often prove deadly for the occupants of smaller vehicles. Speed limits are in place to allow all motorists to know what the maximum speeds allowable in which to safely travel on a certain patch of road. Unfortunately the driver either ignored, did not pay attention to, or simple disregarded the posted speed limit and many suffered from his actions.
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