Schumer pushes for "black boxes" to combat trucker fatigue

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, takes questions, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, takes questions, Monday, April 28, 2014, in New York. Photo Credit: AP / Kathy Willens

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Federal officials should expedite electronic logging device requirements and consider raising insurance coverage levels for trucks after the recent accident that seriously injured comedian Tracy Morgan and killed another comic, Sen. Charles Schumer said Sunday.

The Wal-Mart Stores truck driver in the June 7 crash on the New Jersey Turnpike had not slept for 24 hours before the accident, according to the criminal complaint. Wal-Mart has said it believes Kevin Roper, 35, was in compliance with federal safety regulations.

The onboard electronic logging devices, similar to airplane black boxes, would increase accountability by recording hours driven for work and decrease incentives to falsify paper logbooks often used now, Schumer (D-N.Y.) said at a Manhattan news conference.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration began the process of requiring electronic logging devices in 2010 and, facing a legal challenge, updated its proposal in 2013.

"To have a rule like this, which affects the safety of the truck drivers themselves and every motorist on the road, languish for four years is just too much," Schumer said.

The administration in a statement said the U.S. Department of Transportation will continue to push for the technology. "The uniform adoption of Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) for commercial truck and bus drivers is one of DOT's top priorities and we are committed to completing the rulemaking process as expeditiously as possible," it said.

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Wal-Mart spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan said all the company's trucks are already equipped with electronic logs "to avoid any human error," including the truck involved in the New Jersey accident. Those logs are part of the crash investigation, she said.

Roper pleaded not guilty to charges of death by auto and assault by auto. Morgan, 45, broke his femur, nose and several ribs. James McNair, 62, was killed.

Schumer said the accident and others involving commercial trucks shines a light on driver fatigue."We don't have evidence yet that Wal-Mart is trying to skirt the system, but truckers do," he said.

The U.S. Department of Transportation must help to usher in the devices and push a study on increasing the $750,000 minimum liability coverage now required of trucks, Schumer said. The minimum is $5 million for trucks carrying hazardous materials. The levels have not been updated since 1985.

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