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Tracy Morgan, Truck Wrecks, and Politicians Willing To Make Our Roads More Dangerous

| June 17, 2014

What was left of ma semi truck on I-95 near Palm Coast after it collided with a car and dove into a 30-foot ditch in January 2013. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

What was left of ma semi truck on I-95 near Palm Coast after it collided with a car and dove into a 30-foot ditch in January 2013. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

There are big issues and little ones, and if you’re a politician you’re probably assuming that most people are focused on the big ones like Iraq and health care, and why Eric Cantor lost to a guy named Brat. But the business of politics is really about the little issues because, for our elected officials, that’s where the money is.

The burning question of how many hours of sleep a truck driver needs would usually be considered a little issue—that is, until someone you’ve heard of gets killed or injured by a hurtling 18-wheeler. How unfortunate, then, for Maine Senator Susan Collins that just two days after she called for a one-year delay in certain Federal guidelines intended to keep sleep-deprived drivers off the road, comedian Tracy Morgan would be the high-profile victim of a New Jersey accident that killed another passenger and sent Morgan and three others to the hospital. New Jersey prosecutors allege that the truck driver, who was not injured, hadn’t slept in the 24 hours before the late-night crash, and are charging him with vehicular homicide (he has pleaded not guilty).

Susan Collins is actually one of the more likable folks in the Senate. The website OnTheIssues, which tabulates the voting records of every single Federal and state officeholder, assesses Collins to be a “Moderate Libertarian Liberal.” That’s quite an accomplishment for a member of today’s racing-to-the-right Republican Party.

So what might account for Collins’s sudden interest in helping out the trucking industry? After all, her state ranks 41st in the nation in total vehicle miles and has fewer heavy trucks registered than all but eight other states. Well, according to the website of the Center for Responsive Politics, the largest donor to Collins this year is—a drumroll, please—the American Trucking Associations. Coincidence? You be the judge, but Collins, the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee’s transportation subcommittee, carried the ATA’s water in a somewhat roundabout way: by introducing an amendment to a larger appropriations bill.

Accidents involving heavy trucks account for about one in seven of the nation’s 30,000 annual traffic fatalities, but you don’t have to be a statistician or a physicist to know what happens to the occupants of automobiles that are hit by 80,000-pound tractor-trailers.  If you spend much time on the Interstate, you undoubtedly have seen the aftermath of horrific crashes like the one that occurred earlier this month on I-95 at the Flagler-St. Johns County line. That wreck was typical of the carnage that results from an 18-wheeler plowing into stopped cars, either because of the truck driver’s inattention or fatigue.

At least one study has shown that as many as half of all long-distance truckers admit to having fallen asleep at the wheel in the previous year. But the ATA, in a bit of tortured logic, says the sleep rules that Collins hopes to delay will result in more large trucks on the roads during daylight hours when highways are more crowded. And, of course, both the organization and Collins, in her pitch to the Appropriations Committee, insist that “more research” needs to be done.

Unless you have lost a loved one to a truck accident, this is one of those little issues. But it points to a much larger issue, which is who gets the attention of our elected officials. Grassroots organizations like AnnaLeah & Mary, started by members of the Karth family who lost two loved ones to a May 2013 truck crash, can get a few minutes of a Senator’s time for a photo-op and a few words of commiseration. But wealthy industry organizations like the ATA and, of course, the NRA get the votes. We are represented in Washington by a Congress that is setting records for not passing legislation; but small maneuvers like Collins’s happen every day on the Hill and speak to how—and for whom–our government really works.

Were it not for Tracy Morgan, no one would have heard about Collins’s amendment and, of course, I wouldn’t be writing this column. Clearly Collins wasn’t counting on a big-name truck crash victim. Since the wreck, Collins has been taken to task by a number of editorial pages, but the issue, like most, will fade for everyone except those like the Karth family, who will continue to wage their lonely battle.

On Senator Collins’s web page, you can find information on every single vote she’s ever cast, and read dozens of press releases trumpeting her positions on issues large and small. You can find out where she was born, where she went to college and to whom she is married. You can see photos of her travels and of people she’s met along the way. But nowhere on her website could I find a single mention of the amendment she introduced to delay rules on the hours truckers spend behind the wheel. And that tells you about all you need to know about government.

Steve Robinson moved to Flagler County after a 30-year career in New York and Atlanta in print, TV and the Web. Reach him by email here.

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12 Responses for “Tracy Morgan, Truck Wrecks, and Politicians Willing To Make Our Roads More Dangerous”

  1. Geezer Wants Good Italian Bread says:

    I see great irony in the picture above.

  2. Sherry Epley says:

    Great investigative journalism, Steve! This story could be an episode on the TV series House of Cards. . . just be careful you don’t get on the wrong side of the FBI. . . LOL!

  3. Can't talk to you without talking to me says:

    As I recall near the end of the Clinton administration, he was trying to get the bigger rigs off the highways and encourage the use of rail instead. Not a bad idea. I would like to see trucks used for local delivery only. It’s just too dangerous out on the highways now with passenger vehicles mixing it up with long haul truckers.

  4. buylocal says:

    Our elected public servants are actually corporate servants.

  5. Jack Howell says:

    You are right on the numbers! Excellent overview of the issues and I might add fair. I am sick and tired of our politicians dancing to the tune of corporate money. I thought that term limits would be a way to handle this. But, I know better. The situation is out of control and the Supreme Court’s recent decision on campaign donations only fuels the fire. Yet, with only a 16% approval rating, Congress keeps the cash register full. What folly…reminds me of the Fall of the Roman Empire!

    • barbie says:

      “Term Limits” is that thing Reps and Senators start talking about up there when they want to change the subject from “How much money lobbyists buy us off with”. It’s disgusting. Term limits aren’t the answer–getting all this d*mned money out of politics is the answer. Citizens United MUST GO.

  6. Tom Jacks says:

    “A Congress that is setting records not passing legislation.” Let’s put a name to that, Harry Reid and only Harry Reid is to blame as he has been during his entire tenure as Senate leader.

  7. Steve Wolfe says:

    I wonder how much time is required to compile the stats on sleepy truckers involved in accidents. I was told several years ago by a county cop in VA that we are all limited to 10 hours behind the wheel per day, and driving in excess of the limit is considered as dangerous as driving intoxicated. He let me go, though.

    I have no problem with legislating common sense for the dummies among us, especially when they are driving 40 tons at 70 mph. If trucking companies want to beat the limits they should pay for team driving.

  8. Alan says:

    That picture is worth one thousand words!

  9. Joan Baker says:

    Yeah I am the grandma of the 1 year old and his 25 year old father who passed away in the crash earlier this month on i95 who the truck crashed into. something needs to be done about these truckers some kind of of law needs to be passed so my grandson and son in law did not have to die in vain

  10. Seminole Pride says:

    Don’t put all the blame on the trucking Industry. I’ve driven the interstates and turnpikes in the Northeast. The roads are the worst roads I have ever seen. It’s time to do a complete reconstruction of the infrastructure of their transportation system. Very outdated. and poor condition.

  11. Boomer says:

    Dear Mr. Steve Robinson, I will give just a quick report and you can read the most current data at usdot national highway traffic safety administration web site a government report. here is just a few items on the most current stats: total fatalities 33,561..large truck involed: 3,802…this means that you guys were involved in 29,759 fatal crashes…next: total vehicle crashes 5,282,000…large truck involved: 333,000….look here again you guys were involved in how many accidents? stop with this garbage and report the truth…you are the reporter and i am the truck driver that you hate…statistics will show who is at fault and who drives more accident free miles….small vehicles account for more than 78 % as the at fault vehicle in all accidents involving lare trucks……im sick and tired of all the crap spewed out of the main stream media….you don’t have one clue as to what you write here and it offends me and my family..

    i am truly sorry for any family that suffers as the result of a big truck accident, we are easy to blame as to our size. i have cameras that record all my moves to protect me from people like you. the public is easily misinformed about almost everything that goes on in this country….you owe flagler county the truth and you best correct any mis statements…..oh, most of those big rig fatalities were single vehicle crashes….i expect a new article after you do the math…..

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