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The Talk

Comic's tragedy calls for better oversight in trucking industry

This past weekend, comic Tracy Morgan and a fellow comic were critically injured while a third was killed in a crash in New Jersey. The truck driver charged with caused the crash admitted he had dozed off at the wheel after more than 24 hours of driving without sleep.

Having just seen the three talent comics at ArtsQuest in Bethlehem a few months ago, the news hit hard. Morgan has long been a favorite of mine, and the other comics impressed with their wit and energy.

The thought of such talent being snuffed out so quickly is tragic on many levels.

Such accidents are too common and happen too easily.

The tragedy brought the issue of tractor-trailer safety into the national spotlight, but to those of us in the Lehigh Valley who’ve been reading the newspaper with any regularity, Morgan’s is just a famous and familiar name on a story we’ve seen too many times on our own highways, such as Interstate 78 and Route 22.

Several times a month, fatal crashes involving tractor-trailers make the papers. In recent months, it seems there has been more than one fatal wreck a week.

As in the Morgan crash, fatigue often is cited as the reason.

Federal regulations permit truck drivers to work up to 14 hours a day, with a maximum of 11 hours behind the wheel. Drivers must have at least 10 hours off between work shifts to sleep.

But those laws mean little if they aren’t enforced.

Walmart Stores Inc., which employed the driver in the Morgan crash, said in a statement that it believed that the driver had been following the regulations and promised an investigation. But that action won’t bring back comic James “Jimmy Mack” McNair, who died in the crash, or take away the injuries of the other men.

While most trucking companies do carefully mind the law, we need to make sure laws are being enforced by all and that companies are doing their best to encourage their drivers to obey the regulations, not just recite them with a wink and a nudge.

No one’s life is worth shaving a half-hour off a cross-country transport.

According to the website thetruckersreport.com, a tractor-trailer on a U.S. highway can legally weigh up to 80,000 pounds. That’s a deadly weapon on wheels and needs to be treated with the caution and respect of one.

Let’s get serious about truck safety and let’s start at the top, changing any corporate culture that ignores reckless driving or rewards drivers for speedy delivery.

Safety must come first, or it won’t arrive at all.

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