FAST ACT: Lawmakers mandate study of long commutes

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line associate editor | Monday, December 07, 2015

The fallout from a 2014 fatal crash between a tractor-trailer and a limousine van carrying actor and comedian Tracy Morgan has made its way into the recently signed highway bill.

The bill mandates that the federal agency in charge of motor carrier safety must study the safety effects of truckers who commute more than two and a half hours to work.

Section 5515 of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act requires the administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to conduct a study on the safety effects of a motor carrier operator commuting more than 150 minutes. The agency has up to 18 months to compile a report to present to Congress.

A summary of the highway bill issued after the legislation passed out of conference committee cites the June 7, 2014, crash between a Walmart tractor-trailer and a limousine van carrying Morgan and others. The proposed study is meant to address the prevalence of long commutes in the industry and the impact of such commutes on safety.

The five-year comprehensive highway bill was signed into law by President Barack Obama on Friday, Dec. 4. The 1,300-page legislation authorizes federal surface programs through fiscal year 2020 and will provide $305 billion for roads, bridges and mass transit.

While the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has said the new highway bill is “a positive compromise,” Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said the proposed study on commute times may be looking in the wrong direction when it comes to safety.

“While someone obviously thought this information would be good to know or at least ask, it seems like a waste of money and time for the agency,” Spencer said Monday. “Whether you live a state away from where you run out of, or just a block away, the real issue is fitness to work and maintaining that fitness through what can sometimes be a pretty grueling 14-hour shift.”

Morgan and other passengers were injured, and one man – comedian James “Jimmy Mack” McNair – was killed in the collision. The victims and their families filed suit against the retail giant following the crash. Wal-Mart announced a settlement with Morgan and other limo passengers on May 27 and with McNair in January for an undisclosed sum. The Arkansas-based retailer has since sued several of its insurers over unpaid settlement claims stemming from the crash.

The truck driver is facing criminal charges in New Jersey in connection with the crash, including one count of death by auto. He has pleaded not guilty.

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