Brownsville Herald: Crash survivor to speak with U.S. leaders

In 2015, 4,067 people were killed in large truck crashes in the United States

Brownsville Herald: Crash survivor to speak with U.S. leaders

HARLINGEN — Debra Cruz spends most of her life in her small Harlingen home off Roosevelt Avenue.

She wears sunglasses in her living room to protect her deteriorating eyes and has short-term memory loss.

She takes several prescription medications every day.

She can’t go through metal detectors and keeps her hair cut very short, sometimes short enough to show the scars on the back of her head.

It didn’t used to be that way.

Nine years ago, her life changed.

An accident with an 18-wheeler on her way home left her permanently disabled. But it hasn’t taken away her will. It’s just changed her hopes.

Now, a good portion of her life revolves around doing all she can to make people aware of the devastation accidents can do and to reduce the numbers of these accidents.

“I am grateful and thankful,” Debra said about being alive. “I believe I was put here and survived for a reason.”

One of those reasons may be coming up later this week.

She will be heading to Washington, D.C., Friday to make her plea, again. It’s the second time in three years she has attended what is called “Sorrow to Strength,” a several day event held by the Truck Safety Coalition.

The purpose is to bring awareness to truck safety.

Debra believes she has and can continue to make a difference.

“I look up to Debra,” said Harry Adler, public affairs manager at the Truck Safety Coalition. “I think she is a wonderful representative.”

Adler said Debra, whose trip will be paid for by the Truck Safety Coalition, will be meeting with Congressman Filemon Vela and plans are in the works for her to meet with U.S. Sen. John Cornyn during her visit for Sorrow for Strength. There will be a couple days of workshops and then Debra will go to The Hill to talk with the leaders.

Among the items Debra will speak about include her accident and the situations revolving around it.

“It is always best to get people to tell their story and share it with the lawmakers and the public about what happened to them,” Adler said.

She also will talk about issues regarding truckers, including sleep deprivation, drug and alcohol use as well as proper testing and licensing.

Debra said she was told by her attorneys the driver of the truck that hit her had been in and out of rehabilitation for drug and alcohol abuse, including crystal meth.

“I tell them all this so they know these trucking companies must do better background checks,” Debra said.

Adler said if this was happening in another transportation industry, people would be paying more attention.

“These are not just statistics,” he said about the numbers of deaths and injuries annually in truck accidents. “These are mothers, daughters, fathers and sons.”

An emotional Debra said if she can help make sure this doesn’t happen to one family, her efforts will be worth it and her reason for survival will be clear.

“Debra is passionate about this and really exemplifies the motto for Sorrow for Strength,” Adler said. “She didn’t have to do this, she could have just said, it happened to me and that is it. But, instead, she wants to do what she can so this doesn’t happen to other people. She wants to help others.”

“I look at the way I was before and after — what life was like before,” Debra said. “It gets me a little depressed, but I am still here.”

There are many people in semi-tractor trailer accidents that are no longer here. She said the people she talks to are often amazed she is alive to tell about her ordeal.

She believes there’s a reason for that.

“I still am here and have to talk about it — that’s very important to me,” she said. “If this can help someone else, all that, all the things I have gone through will be worth it. This will all have been worth it if I can make a difference.”


Tuesday, April 25, 2017 10:15 pm | By LISA SEISER Staff Writer Brownsville Herald

Sorrow to Strength 2017

April 29 – May 3, 2017

Washington, DC

TSC Sorrow to Strength 2017 – Welcome

TSC Sorrow to Strength 2017 – About Sorrow to Strength

TSC Sorrow to Strength 2017 – Transportation

TSC Sorrow to Strength – Agenda

TSC Sorrow to Strength 2017 – Major Policy Initiatives

Eno Transportation Weekly Guest Op-Ed: Don’t Let Safety Take a Back Seat to Special Interests

Deadly truck crashes happen every day on our roads and highways across the nation.

Unfortunately, this major public health and safety problem is worsening.

Since 2009, the number of truck crashes has shot up by 45 percent — resulting in a 57 percent increase in truck crash injuries and a 20 percent increase in truck crash fatalities. In 2015 alone, 4,067 people were killed in large truck crashes and 116,000 more were injured.

Congress would not tolerate this death and injury toll if it were occurring in any other mode of transportation. Our nation’s leaders certainly should not be considering any weakening of current truck safety protections to accommodate a few select industry members calling for even longer, heavier trucks.

One particularly divisive issue is a major national policy change that would increase truck lengths by at least ten feet. A handful of large trucking companies and shippers are advocating for a configuration commonly called “Double 33s” – which are two 33-foot trailers towed in tandem. Though being billed by proponents as a “small tweak,” this would amount to trucks on the highways potentially topping 90 feet long, which is equivalent to the length of an eight-story office building on wheels. These trucks At a hearing this week before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security, the President and CEO of FedEx Freight Corporation testified in support of Double 33s. The written testimony argued that this increase in truck size would result in fewer trucks on the road.

However, nothing could be further from the truth.

In the history of our country, every past size and weight increase has resulted in more trucks on our roads. Additionally, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Comprehensive Truck Size and Weight Study (DOT Study), any reduction in truck vehicle miles traveled would be wiped out within one year by increases and shifts in freight transportation. This change to national surface transportation policy would result in a major disruption in multi-modalism and diversion of freight from railroads that are often safer and more environmentally friendly.

The DOT Study’s technical reports also showed that a Double 33 is less safe to operate than the current configuration of Double 28s. These longer trucks require an additional 22 feet to stop, which will make collisions resulting from the truck striking another vehicle in the rear more likely and potentially more devastating.

Research also shows that double trailer trucks have an 11 percent higher fatal crash rate than single trailer trucks. Longer trucks take more time to pass, cross into adjacent lanes, interfere with traffic as well as swing into opposing lanes on curves and when making right-angle turns. These serious safety problems mean big trouble for those travelling alongside these huge trucks.

Supporters of Double 33s consistently cite dubious science, for which they footed the bill, which misstates and misrepresents the benefits of these longer configurations. False claims of Double 33s increasing safety and productivity are nothing more than a play for competitive advantage over the rest of the industry. Simply put, supporters of Double 33s are placing profits over people.

Consequently, there is a growing coalition of diverse voices opposed to increasing truck length. Families of truck crash victims and survivors, public health and safety organizations, truck drivers, law enforcement officials, first responders, short line and regional railroads, railway suppliers and contractors, and rail labor are united in staunch opposition to Double 33s.

Truck drivers and their representatives can speak firsthand to the difficulties of operating these massive rigs. Considering that the Department of Labor consistently ranks driving a truck as one of the ten most dangerous jobs in America, further imperiling their safety should be a non-starter. And, the public has spoken loud and clear in poll after poll that they oppose bigger trucks.

The aggressive push to mandate all states to allow longer, less safe trucks will impose significant hardship on the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

Additionally, states have expressed serious concerns about being forced to accept Double 33s. Just last month, the American Society of Civil Engineers released its 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, which found that 20 percent of the nation’s highways had poor pavement conditions. Moreover, one in 11 of the nation’s bridges were structurally deficient.

The Federal Highway Administration estimates that $142 billion in capital investment would be needed on an annual basis over the next 20 years to significantly improve conditions and performance. The aforementioned DOT Study recognized the adverse effects that Double 33s would have on our bridges, including a one-time cost of $1.1 billion to strengthen and replace more than 2,000 bridges.

This misguided policy proposal is nothing more than a corporate handout for a small segment of the trucking industry. It will endanger motorists and truck drivers, inflict more damage on our suffering infrastructure, preempt state laws throughout the nation, and it does nothing to improve freight efficiency. Lawmakers should be considering commonsense proposals to advance safety, not prioritizing the interests of a select few pushing Double 33s at the expense of public safety.


Executive Director | Truck Safety Coalition
Public Affairs Manager | Truck Safety Coalition

Statement of Joan Claybrook, Lisa Shrum and Larry Liberatore in Response to Today’s Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security Hearing on “Keeping Goods Moving: Continuing to Enhance Multimodal Freight Policy and Infrastructure” 

Statement of Joan Claybrook, Lisa Shrum and Larry Liberatore in Response to Today’s Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security Hearing on “Keeping Goods Moving: Continuing to Enhance Multimodal Freight Policy and Infrastructure” 

April 4, 2017 

Joan Claybrook, Chair, Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH):

“Truck crash deaths are at their highest level since 2008. In 2015, 4,067 people were needlessly killed in truck crashes – the equivalent of a major airplane crash every other week of the year.  Congress would never tolerate over 4,000 deaths in airplane crashes or consider weakening safety rules.  So, too, should they not accept this outrageous death toll and consider advancing an industry wish list.  We urge Congress to get serious about addressing this major public health crisis and stop indulging special trucking interests pushing for bigger, heavier trucks. 

In the history of America, every time there has been an increase in truck size and weight, the result is more, not fewer, registered trucks and trailers. Any claimed reduction in the number of registered trucks and truck vehicle miles traveled (TVMT) would only be temporary. The recent U.S. DOT Comprehensive Truck Size and Weight Study found that any reductions in TVMT would be wiped out within one year. After just one year, even more trucks will be pounding our deteriorating roads and inflicting further damage to our bridges. 

Certain industry members have also claimed a theoretical benefit in shipping capacity which would lead to greater efficiency. But, for this theoretical benefit to be realized, every standard twin 28 trailer would need to be replaced with a double 33 – an implausible scenario. System inefficiencies such as empty (deadhead) trips or below-capacity trailers further decrease any claimed productivity gain. Additionally, many of the nation’s leading trucking companies including Swift, Knight Transportation, PITT OHIO and Heartland Express as well as the Truckload Carriers Association oppose double 33s.  Similarly, truck drivers, law enforcement, public health, consumer and safety organizations oppose this major national policy change.

Longer trucks also have serious safety implications and pose grave risks to families traveling around them. Double trailer trucks have an 11 percent higher fatal crash rate than single trailer trucks. A double 33 will add a minimum of 10 feet to the length of current 28-foot doubles and could top 90 feet long – essentially amounting to the height of an eight-story building. Passing these super-sized trucks will take longer and be more perilous for passenger vehicles. Further, longer trailers will cross into adjacent lanes, interfere with traffic and swing into opposing lanes on curves and while making right-angle turns.

Truck crash deaths and injuries are up significantly, increasing 20 and 57 percents, respectively, from  2009 to 2015. The safety of the American public will only be further jeopardized by allowing this assault on safety to continue.”

Lisa Shrum, Truck Safety Coalition Victim Volunteer, Fayette, MO:

“My mother, Virginia, died on October 10, 2006, in a devastating crash that also killed her husband, Randy. They were driving home to Pleasant Hill, Missouri after dropping off a car in Fayette for my younger brother. They were traveling on Interstate 70 shortly after 11 p.m. Driving conditions were not ideal. But then, they rarely are when you’re on a heavily traveled highway with cars and big trucks moving at high speeds. They had just crested a hill. There was a crash ahead on the road and visibility was poor. In addition, a FedEx double trailer truck had swerved into the left hand shoulder to avoid the upcoming crash. 

Because of the sheer length of the FedEx truck’s two trailers, the back end of the second trailer extended into the passing lane of traffic. Mom’s vehicle hit the double trailer sticking out into the lane ahead of her, spun out, and was then struck by another tractor trailer which sliced her vehicle in half.

Both my mom and Randy were killed. There was a third fatality that day, a young father and husband, and ten people injured in this multi-vehicle crash. When I think about the crash and hear about lobbying efforts by FedEx and others to make trucks even longer and heavier, I cringe. I cringe to think about how much worse it would have been, how many more cars would have been hit, and how many more people would have been killed if longer, heavier trucks were involved. 

Is it really so important that FedEx be allowed to carry more packages when it means more oversized trucks on our streets and highways? Is it really so important for FedEx and other trucking companies to increase their profits? I urge Congress not to put profits of a few behemoth companies ahead of public safety of all motorists.” 

Larry Liberatore, Board Member, Parents Against Tired Truckers (PATT), Odenton, MD

I took the day off of work to attend today’s hearing in honor of my son, Nick.  Nick was killed on June 9, 1997, just south of the Delaware/Maryland state line on his way to Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey with five or six carloads of friends. When the cars were separated while traveling north on Interstate 95, a few of them pulled over on the shoulder of the highway to wait for the others to catch up.  Nick was sitting in the back seat of a car when a tired trucker carrying a load of steel veered across three lanes, and ran over the car. The truck driver had not slowed as he approached the toll booth which was about 1,000 feet past the crash site. 

Hearing FedEx representatives talk about the need for even longer, heavier trucks is terrifying to me.  Whenever I drive down to Washington, D.C., I drive alongside trucks and I know that when it comes down to my car vs. a truck, should a crash occur, 97 percent of fatalities are the car occupants. And I am not alone in this sentiment. In poll after poll, the American public has firmly opposed increases to truck size.  Congress should be considering ways to make our roads safer, not more deadly.

The double 33s proposal is nothing more than a special interest giveaway for a few select special trucking and shipping interests. Families will wind up paying with their lives and their wallets.”