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Sleep-Deprived Walmart Trucker Faces Charges for Tracy Morgan Wreck

A truck driver for Walmart recently pled "not guilty" in response to charges of vehicular homicide in the widely publicized car accident that killed comedian James McNair and landed Tracy Morgan, former star of "SNL" and "30 Rock," in critical condition. The driver, Kevin Roper of Georgia, was apparently awake for a full 24 hours leading up to the crash.

The accident took place just over a week ago on the New Jersey Turnpike, when Roper was apparently too tired or too slow to recognize traffic coming to a stop in front of him. After swerving, he careened into the limo bus carrying Morgan and McNair, as well as a couple others who were also critically injured. (It was just reported that Morgan has been upgraded to "fair" condition following multiple surgeries on his leg.)

It's still unclear how authorities came to learn that Roper hadn't slept the day prior to the accident. But in New Jersey, 24 hours without sleep is the threshold at which one can be convicted for vehicular homicide as a result of drowsy driving. Truckers are also limited to 14-hour workdays in New Jersey, so if Roper broke those regulations, Walmart could potentially be held liable for McNair's death and the others' injuries.

The perils of sleep deprivation or fatigue while driving are well-documented, and I have written before about how a lack of sleep can be just as much of an impairment as driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Truck drivers are notorious offenders, which is why there are laws preventing them from working too many hours too many days in a row. Still, though, plenty of drivers break the rules and their employers are, more often than not, complicit. Sometimes they're cited for it and sometimes they're not.

In the wake of this accident, Senator Chuck Schumer has asked the federal government to speed up a 2012 ruling mandating black boxes be installed in all vehicles by 2015. I am not exactly sure what role this will play regarding this critical problem as 96% of all vehicles currently have black boxes in any event and trucks have had them for years. They certainly have value where drivers fall asleep at the wheel or are too tired to react to a situation on the road.

It's important to remember that truck drivers aren't the only ones who drive while sleep-deprived or fatigued. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 100,000 accidents reported in the United States every year are the direct result of drowsy driving ( http://drowsydriving.org/about/facts-and-stats/). And because each state has its own methods for determining drowsiness and reporting it, that estimate is conservative. High profile accidents like this one involving Tracy Morgan serve to remind us all how important it is to maintain some reasonable balance in our daily lives - if not for our own health and safety, for others around us who will be impacted by drowsy driving mistakes.

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