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Preventing truck accidents: Technology no substitute for sleep

Earlier this month, we wrote about the truck accident that critically injured New Yorker Tracy Morgan. While traveling with friends on the New Jersey Turnpike, Morgan’s limo was struck by a semi-truck and flipped over. Morgan and two others were critically injured. Another passenger and fellow comedian was killed.

The cause of this truck accident is no mystery. The truck driver was dangerously fatigued, having allegedly not slept for 24 hours prior to the crash. Perhaps the only silver lining in this devastating crash is that it has focused national attention on the hazards of truck accidents, which kill thousands of Americans each year.

A recent article in the New York Times discusses the fact that some semi-truck manufacturers are beginning to equip trucks with safety technology that is quickly becoming standard in cars. These include collision-avoidance systems, lane-drift warning systems and adaptive cruise control (which can maintain a constant distance between the truck and the vehicle ahead of it).

Unfortunately, these systems only work so well. In fact, the big rig that struck Tracy Morgan’s limo was a 2011 model that included some of these safety features. It is clear that they were no match for the driver’s fatigue.

To be sure, it is a good idea to start putting crash-avoidance systems in all vehicles, especially large trucks. But a far more effective and low-cost solution is the one that trucking industry representatives are working hard to undo: Hours-of-service rules.

The trucking industry is currently trying to get Congress to relax or roll back rules enacted last year that place reasonable limits on truck drivers’ hours of driving. Before we consider any technological solutions to prevent truck accidents, we must first and foremost make sure that hours-of-service rules stay in place and that truck drivers comply with them.

Source: The New York Times, "Looking to Cars, Trucks Step Up Safety," Tudor Van Hampton, June 27, 2014

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