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The recent accident on the New Jersey turnpike which killed one person, and sent four others to the hospital, has put truck safety and driver fatigue in the spotlight. The accident is an international news story because it sent comedian, and former 30 Rock cast member, Tracy Morgan to the hospital in critical condition. Comedian James “Jimmy Mack” McNair was killed in the accident.

The driver of a Walmart truck, Kevin Roper, rear ended the limo carrying the group when he failed to slow down in a construction zone. He has been charged with death by auto and four counts of assault by auto.

New Jersey authorities said Roper operated the truck “without having slept for a period in excess of 24 hours resulting in a motor vehicle accident.” Walmart has stated they believe Roper was operating with the HOS rules.

Whether or not he was compliant with the HOS rules will be an important legal question for Walmart to answer – the real concern here is driver fatigue. 13% of truck crashes are due to driver fatigue which kills thousands of people each year. Drivers need to ensure they get the rest needed to their jobs safely.

Unfortunately new laws won’t help with driver fatigue when drivers make bad decisions and don’t get their required rest. You can legislate new HOS rules but no congress or parliament can make people sleep with a stroke of their pen.

Professional drivers need to ensure that they are not only following HOS rules but they also need to be getting proper sleep when they shut down. Drivers also need to make smart decisions to shut down if they feel fatigued even if they still have hours available to drive. It’s simply unacceptable to be operating when you are too tired to drive.

No load has ever been loaded onto a truck which was more valuable than a human life.

It may seem like a small indiscretion to push the limits and drivers may feel like they need to push the boundaries, to make a good paycheck, but it only takes one instant and a slow reaction to cause a major accident which kills someones mother, husband, son, or daughter.

I don’t know what Mr. Roper’s motivation was to take the wheel without sleeping in more than a day, but it looks likely he’ll be going to prison.

Truck safety is no joke and not to be taken lightly.