The trucking industry insists that the government can't police sleep. But as long as sleep-deprived tractor-trailer drivers are depriving innocent people of their lives, Congress should push the industry to prioritize safety.
Instead, the Senate last month approved some exemptions from rules limiting drivers' hours on the job, reports The New York Times.
In response, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., criticized "a transportation bill full of special-interest gifts to the trucking industry" and said "allowing more tired truckers on our roads will only lead to more accidents like the horrific accident that injured Tracy Morgan last year."
On Tuesday, investigators for the National Transportation Safety Board cited a Walmart truck driver's fatigue as the chief cause of the chain-reaction crash on the New Jersey Turnpike that killed comedian James McNair and injured comedian Morgan and eight others.
The driver, who was traveling 65 mph through a 45 mph construction zone, had been awake for more than 28 hours.
Closer to home, the driver who was arrested in Lexington last week after being indicted for causing an Interstate 75 crash on June 25 in Chattanooga that killed six people had also gone without sleep longer than federal regulations allow, according to the NTSB.
After the crash, the driver tested positive for methamphetamine, a powerful illegal stimulant. He had been on duty for about 50 consecutive hours in the three days prior and 15 consecutive hours immediately before plowing through traffic stopped in a construction zone.
In Lexington he was also charged with trafficking in a controlled substance and kicking a police cruiser.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration says the driver tested positive for meth six weeks before the crash. The day before the crash, after 45 hours on duty, he side-swiped a semi in Florida and was cited for careless driving.
All this raises questions about why his employer, Cool Runnings Express, Inc. of London, turned him loose behind the wheel of a big rig and kept him there after the Florida side-swipe.
The Times Free Press of Chattanooga reported that during the last 24 months, the company's trucks failed three of eight vehicle inspections and two of 14 driver inspections. On three occasions since 2013, trucks were put out of service during roadside inspections because of brake problems and twice during 2014 the company was cited for violating drivers' hours of service regulations.
The industry says that federal sleep-break requirements imposed in 2013 have had the perverse effect of forcing truckers off highways in the early morning hours when traffic is lightest. The public should insist that there's no safe time to share the road with semis piloted by hopped-up, sleep-deprived drivers.