The industry convinced Sen. Collins to add a provision that barred the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) from spending a cent to enforce its new safe rule to the $54B transportation bill in June 2014. The provision also required a new study of the issue. Only disaster prevented further disasters as trucking industry cheated system.
We saw at the end of part one of this series that the trucking industry believed that even less safety regulation was needed. In 2014, the industry found the perfect mouthpiece for its cause: Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). Rather than chance being blocked by the Senate Appropriations Committee, the industry convinced Sen. Collins to add a provision that barred the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) from spending a cent to enforce its new safe rule to the $54B transportation bill in June 2014. The provision also required a new study of the issue. Only disaster prevented further disasters as trucking industry cheated system.
Collins and Morgan
The end run around legitimate lawmaking would have worked, but for a tragic accident that became national news. Just two days after the Collins amendment was added to the transportation bill, comedian Tracy Morgan’s limousine was struck by a Walmart truck driver. The exhausted driver was barreling down the New Jersey Turnpike when he hit Morgan’s limo, killing Morgan’s friend James McNair and seriously injuring Morgan and four other passengers.
This accident was the end of Collins’ amendment, for a time. On June 19, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced his own amendment blocking Collins’. Due the very public controversy surrounding Morgan’s accident, Senate leaders yanked Collins measure before the bill went to a vote.
Sen. Collins didn’t’ stop there, however. Her amendment once again found its way into the spending measure passed by December 13 to prevent a government shutdown. No one knew about this new end run around procedure until it was too late and her amendment was passed into law. Safety advocates across the nation were shocked, including Benedict Morelli, Morgan’s attorney.
Mr. Morelli said, “I don’t understand how in good conscience anybody could be pushing to relax the federal rules. The reason that they’ve been put in place is to make sure this doesn’t happen — and it happens a lot.”
Sadly, Mr. Morelli is correct. Spring of 2015, when Congress just happened to be focusing on trucking regulations again, a series of accidents graphically demonstrated how dangerous it is to push overtired truckers beyond their limits.
John Wayne Johnson, April 22, 2015: This driver plowed through a number of cars backed up on Interstate 16 in Georgia due to another truck crash. This accident killed five Georgia Southern University nursing students en route to their last training shift of 2015. The suits that followed alleged that Johnson had sleep apnea along with a history of falling asleep behind the wheel. There were even allegations that he was looking at porn when then accident occurred.
David Gibbons, May 19, 2015: The driver was drifting between lanes as he came upon a construction zone on the same Georgia interstate, this time near I-95. The truck smashed into stopped cars and five people died.
Benjamin Brewer, June 25, 2015: Approaching construction traffic on I-75 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Mr. Brewer, on a 50 hour work stint and allegedly high on meth, killed six people. His traveling speed, according to the NTSB, was so great that his rig kept on going for another 453 feet after he hit the first car.
Ruslan Pankiv, July 23, 2015: Mr. Pankiv didn’t notice the traffic back-up on I-65 near Lafayette, Indiana. It was another construction zone. He smashed through a line of stopped vehicles. Five people died, including Mr. Pankiv.
The aforementioned accidents take into account the fact that fatigue was explicitly given as a potential cause. Several independent experts believe that accidents caused by fatigue are seriously undercounted due to the lack of blood tests or roadside exams for sleepiness, coupled with the fact that the drivers are not likely to admit they were falling asleep.
This was the case with Renato Velasquez, the trucker who nearly killed Trooper Balder. Though he could give no other reason for his actions that night, Velasquez was adamant that he had not fallen asleep at the wheel. The NTSB released its final report on the accident on February 9, 2016. Velasquez had already been tried, convicted and sentenced to the years in prison for:
- Ignoring federal rest rules;
- Failing to yield; and
- Driving while fatigued.
Why would anyone risk their own and others’ lives to complete a job? We’ll look at that in part three of the series on Monday when we hear Renato Velasquez’ story.