Tracy Morgan Accident Prompts Look at Commercial Driving Laws

By  | 

“There was a terrible accident. The car’s flipped, it’s on its side. It’s two vehicles and a Walmart truck,” reported one passerby in the wee morning hours of Saturday, June 7. The accident received heavy media coverage — the three-car pile up killed one and injured four. Among the injured was celeb Tracy Morgan, who needed surgery on his broken leg; he also suffered several broken ribs and a broken nose. The comedian, best known for his NBC gigs with “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock,” also lost his mentor and fellow funnyman James “Jimmy Mack” McNair. McNair was pronounced dead at the scene.

The driver of the Walmart truck, Kevin Roper, has been charged with vehicular homicide. He was said to be “driving recklessly” because he had not slept in 24 hours. As a result of this accident, debates over regulations for commercial truck drivers have sprung up across the country.

Hours-of-Service Regulations

July 1, 2013 marked the initiation of new hours-of-service regulations for truck drivers. The goal of the new regulations was to “improve safety for the motoring public by reducing truck driver fatigue,” according to a news release by The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

The new rules reduced the maximum average workweek for truck drivers from 82 hours to 70 hours. Drivers are required to rest for 34 consecutive hours, including two full nights’ sleep, before they can begin a new workweek. Lastly, drivers must take a 30-minute break within the first eight hours of their shifts. The DOT estimated that these changes would save 19 lives, prevent 560 injuries, and thwart 1,400 crashes each year. In crafting these changes, the DOT worked to prevent death, injury, and damage to the “motoring public.” While the shift was indeed positive, there could be more changes made to worker regulations. In this case, I do not blame Walmart nor the DOT for taking inadequate precautions.

Blame Roper

You’d think it would be common sense to take a nap and recharge before driving an 80-thousand-pound truck cross-country in the middle of the night. I don’t know Roper’s situation — he could have been depending on his paycheck for medical bills or rent or a variety of other inescapable obligations. But his ill-planned actions resulted in the loss of a life and myriad suffering.

Roper pleaded not guilty for the accident, and police are having a difficult time proving his lack of sleep. He claims that had he not hit a celebrity and killed a member of Morgan’s entourage, the consequences would have been far less severe. He even ranted on Twitter about the situation.

Driving while deprived of sleep is classified as reckless driving in the state of New Jersey, where the accident occurred. If hard evidence was found proving he had not slept in more than 24 hours, Roper could be sentenced up to ten years. It seems the only chance of obtaining this evidence would be a confession from Roper. And we all know that’s not going to happen.

I do not believe Roper is a hardened criminal, but someone who made a poor decision. We all make mistakes. When we’re young, we’re taught to think before we act, but that lesson doesn’t always stick. The real issue is that Roper’s lack of cognizance resulted in the loss of life.

The accident left McNair’s family in shambles. His 18-year-old daughter passed out at his funeral, where hundreds showed up to lend the family support. Roper took away a father’s opportunity to see his children grow up. Roper should take responsibility for cutting McNair’s life short and stop complaining about the amount of media coverage the case receives.

The federal government has done its part by enacting limitations on drivers’ workweeks. Maybe this change is not enough and should be further amended, but I’m not a truck driver so I really don’t know. Maybe some consultation with those in the industry could lead to even more appropriate guidelines. I do think Roper deserves to serve time for his actions and should retract his Twitter tirade.

If it were one of my family members in the crash, I would want to know that justice was served. I would want to know that changes would be made to protect my family, friends, and the rest of the motoring public. I would make an example of Roper to teach other truck drivers to think before they sit behind the wheel for overnight cross-country drives. Because au contraire to Roper’s opinion that this accident wouldn’t blow up if a star weren’t involved, a man was killed because of his actions, and his life was just as important as anyone else’s.

Natasha Paulmeno (@natashapaulmeno)

Featured image courtesy of [Sam Lehman via Flickr]

Natasha Paulmeno
Natasha Paulmeno is an aspiring PR professional studying at the University of Maryland. She is learning to speak Spanish fluently through travel, music, and school. In her spare time she enjoys Bachata music, playing with her dog, and exploring social media trends. Contact Natasha at



Send this to friend