Truck Safety Coalition in the News
I’m in the midst of preparations to attend a Sorrow to Strength conference in Washington DC. The conference, the first weekend in May, is put on by The Truck Safety Coalition (see http://www.trucksafety.org/) and is attended by survivors and families of truck crash victims. We spend a few days together talking about truck safety issues, lobbying on Capitol Hill and remembering the people we’ve lost. It’s an oddly fun and sad experience all at the same time, and one that my siblings and I look forward to in a weird sort of way. It’s comforting to be with people that know how we’re feeling and have been through the same wide range of emotions, yet it’s hard to look around a room filled with people all hurting from the same experience. Especially when so many of our losses could have been avoided.
What really gets me the most is listening to the stories on the first evening. We all stand up and tell the short version of what happened to our family, the horrific events that led us to this conference room in a DC hotel. You hear the stories, one after another, and so many of them are exactly the same; someone was struck from behind by a tractor trailer driven by a tired, inattentive, or sometimes drugged driver. Usually a driver who had been on the road more hours than was legal, trying to make a buck, trying to support a family, trying to get by. And now here we are, just a fraction of the 5,000 families affected like this every year, in a room trying not to cry as we each describe “our” crash. Regardless of the details most stories end the same. Someone is gone. Sometimes someone survives, but at such a cost. Always the pain is there. That’s what gets me mad. And sad. And what makes me go to Washington, to talk to Senators and Representatives, to their staff people, to the press. To anyone that will listen. To you. Because so much of what the trucking industry appears to view as “collateral damage” doesn’t have to happen.
I know that I’m just one person. But in that room, this year on the first weekend in May, will be too many people, too many families, too many broken hearts. For one weekend we stand united; we will have a presence and maybe someone will see us. Maybe someone will listen. Maybe, just maybe, we can begin again to make a difference. We’ve lost family members, but we haven’t lost hope that change is possible. Change can start with one person. Dad believed that and so do I.
This trip is for you Dad. Miss you.
It’s raining here in DC. Outside and in our hearts. We’ve attended two days of meetings with other grieving families. We’ve learned a lot about pending trucking legislation. We’ve hugged a lot. We’ve cried a lot.
We’re headed off now to meetings on the Hill. I’m doing a press conference this morning which makes me nervous, but I remember Dad, and he makes me strong.
I’ll tell you all about it when I get back home. It’s sad, it’s empowering, it’s confusing, and sometimes it’s overwhelming. Always Dad is in my heart.
I leave in a few minutes, taking the metro to the airport. This year I feel better about my experiences at our “Sorrow to Strength” conference. Maybe it’s because we had a specific issue to fight for; freezing the size and weight of big rigs. Maybe it’s the Senate bean soup I had for lunch yesterday in the Senate basement cafe. I don’t know. I’ll think about it on the flight and let you know.
The gist of my statement at last Monday’s press conference was to ask for people to go to our new website: www.StopBiggerTrucks.org and sign a petition to continue the freeze initiated in 1991 on the size and weight of semi-trucks. If you’re interested in this issue, please go to that website, look around, and if you can, sign the petition. Below are some of the comments I made Monday morning to the press:
Good morning. My name is Dawn King and I am here today along with my siblings to honor my father, William H. Badger, who was 75 years young when he was killed two days before Christmas 2004. He was stopped in traffic when a tractor-trailer driver fell asleep at the wheel and slammed into his car.
My dad was a husband, a father, a brother, a friend and a colleague. He was a world traveler and lifelong learner, he was interested in everything, and shared the things he knew and the stories he lived with us all. He was everyone’s handyman, comfort and support; everyone was his friend. And his friends called him Bill.
Since my family’s tragic loss I have joined CRASH — Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways. I am now on its Board of Directors and I have been part of our First Response team to assist other grieving truck crash victims.
The American public needs to know that the American Trucking Association is once again pushing Congress to increase the weight and size limits of trucks on our highways and bridges. If the ATA gets its way, the current 80,000 pound limit will increase to 97,000 pounds. That’s a 21% increase. They won’t tell you that history has repeatedly shown that truck size and weight increases do not result in fewer trucks on our highways. They also won’t tell you that the engines needed in these heavier and more dangerous trucks produce more pollution than today’s standard tractor-trailers.
Between 2003 and 2007 alone, 535 people were killed in truck crashes in Michigan. To our elected officials who we entrust with our lives we say, you can change our laws, but you can’t change the laws of physics. We know that bigger and heavier trucks will result in more damage to our roads and bridges and more deaths and devastating injuries to people who attempt to share the roads with these big rigs.
Let’s not forget the I-35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis in 2007 that killed 13 unsuspecting people, injured an additional 145 people, and horrified our entire nation.
Today, an estimated 162,000 of the nation’s 600,000 bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. As Congress makes a decision on the next federal surface transportation act, they should consider this: Will giving into the truck lobby cause more or less damage to our nation’s network of highways and bridges that we as taxpayers pay to repair? Will bigger trucks mean more or less death and disabling injury?
We all know the answers to these questions. That is why I am here to stand with other daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, mothers and fathers who are turning their sorrow to strength to make sure that decisions made by our lawmakers in Washington this year are truly in the public’s interest.
Please visit StopBiggerTrucks.org to sign the petition in support of the Safe Highways and Infrastructure Protection Act – known as SHIPA, to freeze truck size and weight limits at the current level. The SHIPA legislation is endorsed by the truck drivers of the Owner-Operators Independent Drivers Association and the Teamsters, by environment groups like Environment America, and by safety organizations like CRASH, Parents Against Tired Truckers and the Truck Safety Coalition.
We also know that public opinion is on our side. So, please go to StopBigger Trucks.org and let your voice be heard so that together we can draw a bold line in the pavement against bigger and heavier trucks. Before it’s too late.
It’s hard to know where to start talking about the Truck Safety Coalition’s meetings with the Department of Transportation and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration over the last two days. First of all it’s important to understand that the past relationship between us and these agencies hasn’t always been close. OK. Let’s be honest, there just hasn’t been any workable relationship with them at all in the past. I attended a meeting in 2005 where I and members of other grieving families told our stories and asked for help enforcing existing safety rules. The DOT staff sat stone faced, finger pointing at each other and other agencies and nothing ever came from any of our meetings. So it was with great hope that we accepted the invitation from newly confirmed Administrator Anne Ferro (we lost our vigorous battle to have her denied confirmation as head of the FMCSA) and the Secretary of Transportation Raymond LaHood to meet and talk about our (hopefully mutual) goals.
In a strange sort of way perhaps we are lucky that Anne Ferro, a member of the trucking industry lobby, was nominated by President Obama. Because she was, and because we made such a ruckus about her, we got noticed. Our squeaky wheel got attention. And so it was that I found myself sitting in a big leather chair around a giant conference table in the DOT; sitting with a couple of other families, several attorneys, and other safety advocates including Ralph Nader. I was sitting right next to Secretary LaHood, with a series of pictures of Dad and his smashed car resting on the table in front of the two of us. As he did the introduction remarks, sweeping his glance around the table he had to keep looking at those pictures.
On behalf of grieving families everywhere we at Truck Safety Coalition presented Mr. Secretary with two collage panels that showed over 120 pictures of the faces of crash victims. Sadly, that’s just a fraction of the 5,000 people that are killed each year in truck crashes, or the 100,000 that are severely injured each year. Dad’s photo was among those on the collage. We told the Secretary that we appreciated his well-known and often voiced commitment to safety. But that we’d heard it before and we were skeptical. Eventually our skepticism irritated him, but I don’t think he’ll forget us. We asked that the Hours of Service Rule (the number of hours a truck driver can drive in a row, and the hours of required rest) be totally revamped. The agency has tried twice before to get new rules passed, each time we took them to court because their “new” rule was no better, and sometimes worse for others on the road as well as the drivers themselves. We don’t want the “new” administration to just tweak what had already been attempted. We want a totally new overhaul, and one that makes sense. And we want teeth in the rules so that they are enforceable, which in our view, requires the mandated installation of Electronic On Board Recorders (EOBRs) that will record when a truck is moving and when it is at rest so that the log books can no longer be fudged in order to get more work out of tired drivers.
We were repeatedly assured that “this is not your grandmother’s DOT.” Well. We’ll see.
This morning we had a follow-up meeting with Administrator Anne Ferro and her team alone. We presented collages to her as well, and I told her that when she looks into the faces of those people I hoped she would remember that all the decisions she makes need to be made on the side of safety. That changes have to be made in order to save lives, and of the people in the room, only she has the power to save lives. We talked more specifically about the research behind our requests, some of which we don’t think she is aware. We were again assured that it’s a new day at the DOT. She seems personable and interested. And, we have to say we haven’t been this welcomed ever in the past. But her staff are the same people that have been there for years and years. We aren’t sure that she will be able to make such significant changes in an agency (the FMCSA) that is so dominated and controlled by the American Trucking Association (ATA) who has no interest in making themselves any more accountable than they already are, which is negligible at best.
So here I am in my hotel tonight. Exhausted. Hopeful. I want so much to believe them. And truly, I can understand their frustration at our skepticism. They don’t know how to make it more clear to us that things will change, they just reiterate their mantra that “Safety is their number one concern.” But we need actions, not words. I so hope that they mean what they say and that they can find a way to work through the distractions thrown at them by the ATA and others who have for years blasted us as “anti-trucking.” We know the economics of the issue. We know that the nation’s economic well-being rests on the back of truckers. We all want to be able to go to our local stores and buy the latest and the best for reasonable prices. But we can’t do it at the cost of innocent lives, both in cars and in the cabs of the trucks hauling that stuff across our country.
Dad worked in manufacturing his whole life. He focused on safety at his plants and mandated any safety issues get fixed now. I told that to Secretary LaHood. As I spoke he turned his chair and we looked into each other’s eyes. I told him that when Dad saw something that was unsafe in his work environment he made sure it got fixed now. There was no long debate spanning years or argument over definitions. He’d bust butt to make sure his people were safe. If it was broken it got fixed. Immediately. I could not ask for anything less from the DOT. Mr. Secretary nodded. I hope he heard, I think he did.
Today as I was sitting in the FMCSA’s conference room across the table from Ms. Ferro I would periodically glance at the picture of Dad which lay on the table in front of me. “Hey Dad!” I’d think, “Are you listening? Do you hear this? Can you believe it? Ann Ferro, the new head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association knows your name! Transportation Secretary LaHood has heard your story! You’re making a difference Dad! Can you even believe we’re sitting here?” When I was ten years old I never would have dreamed that I’d be sitting at a table with Ralph Nader and a Cabinet Secretary. That I’d have dinner with Mr. Nader after and discuss safety issues. It goes to show that you just never know. Before 2004, I never knew. Sometimes I wish I still didn’t know. But I can’t discount the personal growth all of this has given me.
Tonight I cry easily, the result of the stress being released. I slept for four hours after I got back to the hotel. In the middle of the day. This is so important. We are so close to having an impact. We have made a tiny chink in the DOT armor…they know we’re out there and they know we aren’t going away. But the personal cost to us is beyond measure, both in the loss of our family member and to ourselves personally. Reliving the details of that terrible day, the details of the way we each lost someone we loved takes its toll. As one woman who has been working on this for over twenty years said, “It feels like we’re going through the funeral every time we do this.” It would feel so good to be able to put this all behind us, to move on with our own lives, hold those we love close in a more personal, less public way.
But we can’t. Because those 120 faces looking out of that collage are asking for help to save lives. And no one is going to do it but us. The price we paid has to have been worth something. I can’t express how much I hope it was.
After today’s meeting I toured the Library of Congress. On a wall there I read “They are never alone that are accompanied with noble thoughts.” I have heard over and over again from victims’ families how alone they felt before they found our group. I hope our noble thoughts comfort us all as we work through these difficult issues.
Love you Dad.
February, 2011 – People Ask Me Why?
When some people hear that I work on truck safety issues they ask me why. I have several reasons, most of which you’ve heard here before.
I talk to people, write about issues, call, visit and email my government representatives, attend meetings and travel because all of that gives me something to do with my anger and my grief. Even after six years the pain is just below the surface and still surprises me by its intensity.
I also do it to honor my Dad who was always there for all of us. I do it because unlike government he wouldn’t spend years studying and talking about safety, he’d just fix stuff. One of the last things he did the week before he was killed by a tired trucker that December was to add handrails to unsafe places in his church. Because he saw a safety hazard and he knew he could fix it. So he did.
Just last night, on my way to bed I heard on the nightly news about a pregnant couple, driving to visit his parents with her parents in the car, who stopped on the freeway this past snowy Saturday afternoon because there was an accident up ahead. A semi hit them from behind. The pregnant mother is dead, the baby born without a heartbeat is on life support. Another family is spun deeply into mourning.
And that’s why I do it.
I’m on my way to DC this weekend. It’s our semi-annual Truck Safety Coalition Sorrow to Strength conference. Seems like we were just there, but it’s been two years. Every time we go to this conference we say that we’re going to go a day early, stay a day late, and then we never have the time. This year we’re flying out in the morning and arriving about an hour before the conference starts. We’ll be in meetings over the weekend, then in appointments on Monday and Tuesday, talking to anyone and everyone that will listen.
I’ll tell you more about it later. I’m a bit worried that with all the hoopla going on in Washington our story just isn’t going to get the attention we need. But I feel that way every year. I guess it’s up to us to make enough noise to get noticed.
I should take lessons from Katie my Sheltie; she’s got that down pat.
I have so much to tell you and hardly know where to start. I could start with the fact that an expensive hotel room that charges extra for internet access won’t get my business again. The combination of being booked from morning to night with appointments and not having access to the internet in our room means that you didn’t get daily updates of our activities while we were in DC.
We’re home now and though my heart says I need to write this blog entry before I forget the intense emotions of the last four days, my head says I need to get to sleep in order to function at work tomorrow.
So I’ll leave you with a little hope. We are so close to having Electronic OnBoard Recorders mandated on all commercial trucks to help us enforce the hours of service rule, and we are so close to having reduced hours of service for commercial drivers. We have the ear of the Department of Transportation, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and the NTSB and many other important transportation committees that regulate commercial vehicles. We were heard.
I’ll tell you more later. For now, stay safe everyone.
The Truck Safety Coalition is a non-profit that works with safety advocates to advance the agenda of safer highways across the country. This year we celebrated its 20th anniversary. It’s a wonderful organization and I wish I didn’t belong to it. Because for a person to belong to this group usually means there has been loss and suffering. Someone related to almost all members of the group has been killed or injured in a truck related crash.
Every two years the TSC hosts a conference called Sorrow to Strength where heartbroken families gather to share their sorrow and reap the strength that being together affords. On Saturday and Sunday while we listen to each other’s stories we learn how to tell our own, how to talk to the media, to bring attention to our issues. We learn how government works and which issues are closest to being achieved and where we should put our focused efforts. We become lobbyists extraordinaire.
Monday and Tuesday we are scheduled in meetings with our members of Congress, with transportation committee members, and with the staff of regulatory agencies. Each of us has our own schedule and they are chock full. Sometimes we’ll see other members of our group coming or going from Senate or House buildings, or eating in the cafeteria deep beneath “The Hill.” But, since this is our fourth conference and we know our way around, essentially we’re on our own, telling our stories, asking support for our issues. Trying not to cry, but not feeling so bad when we don’t succeed at remaining clear-eyed. Everywhere we go we’re wearing pins with our family member’s face and we’re carrying larger pictures of them too. My photo collage had a couple pictures of Dad, and a picture of the car taken after the crash; people seem drawn to the destruction. Whatever helps the cause.
One of the issues we pushed this year was getting Electronic On Board Recorders mandated on all commercial vehicles. I was in DC 18 months ago when we met with the Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, and requested that he move along a bit faster in his study of the problem of fatigued drivers who were driving longer than was legal and risking the lives of all who share the roads with the big rigs. At that point he was planning on putting out a memo to start thinking about maybe looking into EOBR’s. I was frustrated. This weekend I learned that the DOT has actually put together a proposed rule that would mandate that EOBR’s be installed on all commercial vehicles. I am elated.
At the end of a meeting with Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrator Anne Ferro I gave her a hug and told her I knew she was working hard at important issues. She hugged me back and said she knew it wasn’t fast enough. We’re on the same page.
Every year that goes by another 4000 people die in truck related crashes, and another 100,000 are injured. We don’t have time for the over analysis of no brainer decisions. Every industrialized country in the world has had EOBR’s for years. Here in the states we let drivers keep track of how many hours they drive by writing it down in a paper logbook. How much analysis does it take to figure out the logbooks are fraudulent?
Meanwhile, we also have a bill being introduced by a Democratic Senator to mandate EOBRs. We’re looking for a Republican cosponsor. It’s another way to get the EOBR’s on trucks, just in case the DOT doesn’t move forward with their proposed rule. We’re also trying to get mandated EOBR’s included a major transportation re-authorization bill. We don’t care how it happens, as long as it happens soon. We’re pushing all three processes in the hopes that one of them actually makes our goal a reality.
This is getting long and I haven’t even told you about the Hours of Service reduction that might happen soon or the increase in liability insurance we’re pushing. I haven’t told you about side underride guards we want installed, the SHIPA bill that freezes size and weight restrictions, or the underlying safety problem, which is the way drivers are paid. I guess all that will have to wait for another blog entry someday.
Meanwhile, if you’ve read this far, thank you. We can’t do this alone. We need everyone’s support, and if the EOBR bill makes it to a point of being voted on I’ll let you know so you can ask your Senator to support us.
And if you read or hear about truck crashes in your area, please forward any links or information to the Truck Safety Coalition at their website. Last year we contacted over 700 families to offer help. This year we expect to do even more.
We had three or four new families at the conference this year; their loss is recent, their grief is raw, uncontrollable. All we could do was hold them, let them cry and cry with them. Their stories are horrific. We have to make a difference because this can’t go on.
So stay safe everyone; call us if anyone needs us. We’ll be there. Membership is not restricted. Unfortunately.
I’ll try to make this short because I know not everyone is into the whole truck safety thing. But some of you have wondered how you can help move safety issues along. Here’s an easy way. There is now a House and a Senate version of the SHIPA bill. SHIPA stands for Safe Highways and Infrastructure Preservation Act. It seeks to freeze the size and weight of commercial trucks where they are now as they travel on the national highway system. Size and weight are already frozen on the interstate system, but larger trucks are allowed on many highways. SHIPA would eliminate that loophole.
You can go to your Senator’s and Representative’s websites and ask them to cosponsor these bills. The more bi-partisan support we can get the better the chance that we can get the bill to pass. The Senate version of the bill is S. 876, and the House version is H. R. 1574.
The House version already has over 30 cosponsors so your person might have already signed on. Here’s how you can tell. Go to this site. Click the bill # option under the search summary. Then type in H.R. 1574. (you can also type HR 1574) That will take you to a spot where you can click on “cosponsors” and see if your Representative has already signed on. If not, email them and ask them to cosponsor.
The Senate version doesn’t have any cosponsors yet. It was just introduced at the beginning of May, by a Democratic Senator. It would be great to get more Senators to cosponsor.
If you’ve never written to a Member of Congress before, don’t be intimidated. You are important and they want to hear from you. You can find their websites by just googling their name, or you can go to this site to find out who your Representative is and this site to find out who your Senators are.
Each one has a comment section on their individual websites. You have to fill out your name and address so they know you are actually one of their own, then there’s a big box where you can type. We don’t want all the messages to sound canned, so just ask them to cosponsor either H.R. 1574 (if they are a House of Representative Member) or S. 876 (if they are a Senator). Tell them that bigger, heavier trucks are more dangerous, will kill more people and cause more damage to our bridges and roads. Tell them you want their support to make our roads safer.
That’s all you have to do…ask them to help us make the roads safer. Try it, it’s easy and it will empower you.
And the victims and their families will thank you.
Today is Dad’s birthday, so in celebration I thought I’d give you the short version of our latest trip to Washington DC to work on truck safety issues. For those of you that don’t know, Dad was killed 7 years ago by a tired semi driver who didn’t notice the traffic stopped in front of him.
This past week we and a few other families who have suffered loss were asked by the Truck Safety Coalition to go to Washington for a Tuesday meeting with DOT (Department of Transportation) Secretary LaHood, and FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) Administrator Anne Ferro. We were also scheduled for several meetings on Wednesday with Senators’ and House Members’ staff to talk about legislation in the works.
Our meeting with the Secretary LaHood and Administrator Ferro went well. They promised us only 30 minutes, which is nothing at all once you get through all the introductions, but LaHood talked with us for an hour, and Ferro for even longer. Our agenda was to ask where they stood on certain issues we (and they) have been working on for a long time. I asked why the Hours of Service Rule, issued this past December, still allowed drivers to drive eleven consecutive hours and Ms. Ferro explained that all their studies had not shown enough difference in fatigue between ten and eleven hours, but that ten hours was still not off the table; they were continuing to study the issue.
Another volunteer, one who lost both her son and his bride to a honeymoon crash similar to Dad’s said that we could live with ten or eleven hours if there was a way to enforce the rule, and asked what was happening with mandating the EOBRs (Electronic On Board Recorders). Ms. Ferro replied that many major trucking companies were very accepting of the technology being mandated but smaller, independent truck companies were balking and were suing for invasion of privacy and that all of that had to be cleared up before they could issue a rule about mandating EOBRs on commercial vehicles.
We asked about minimum liability insurance, which currently is at $750,000 and hasn’t been raised in over thirty years. That’s $750K for each incident, not each person injured or killed in a crash. So if several families or cars are involved all those injured and all the families of those killed must share the $750K if that is all the truck company has. And many truck companies, particularly small or independent truckers only carry the minimum. We were told that was still under consideration. We stressed the need for raising the minimum at least for the cost of inflation. They said they’d think about it.
We also asked the Secretary to take a public and very strong stand against House Bill 7 which had just been introduced at a press conference that morning. House Bill 7 (HR 7) is being touted as a jobs bill by committee chair Mica (R Florida) but included several provisions that allowed some states to independently allow truck weights to increase from 80,000 pounds to 97,000 and in some case up to 126,000 pounds. It also allowed those states that allowed triple trailers on any of their roads to allow those on all their roads. Secretary LaHood said he hadn’t had time to read the bill and would meet with us in 45 days to discuss it.
We left the meeting feeling somewhat better, but still very frustrated at the slow nature of progress in political DC.
Wednesday we split up into three groups and took information about Senate Bill 1950 (which is an EXCELLENT bill) and House of Representatives Bill 7 (which is a devastatingly HORRIBLE bill) to Senate and House offices, talking to transportation legislative assistants in as many offices as we could about our concerns about safety and asking them to place safety ahead of profit. We were on the Hill (the Senate and House offices) that day because the ATA (American Trucking Association) had done a ‘fly in’ bringing in many people to ‘save our trucks’ and we wanted to counter their demands for bigger, heavier trucks. They had hundreds of people on the hill…we were a group of eight.
Transportation was a hot topic last week on the Hill. Everywhere we went we saw people with little buttons that said “I love trucks” and we figure we need buttons with “I love SAFE trucks.” But we were wearing buttons with our family member’s face and that was a comfort. We walked and we walked and then we walked some more, from early morning till after 5. Everyone we talked to was sympathetic, but how could they not be, when looking at us they had to look into the faces of people we’ve lost.
We started to hear that there might be an amendment to the HR 7 bill, something they were saying that we would like. It turns out that on Thursday, while I was flying home, an amendment was proposed that took out the State’s weight and size provisions and replaced it with a study (Thank you Representatives Barletta and Costello for your excellent amendment!). And that amendment was voted on and passed by the very committee that drafted HR 7! This is a huge win, and though we were not the only group lobbying against HR 7, there were police organizations and another coalition that is fighting bigger trucks there, we are so very happy we were on the Hill during this important debate.
And more good news; early Friday morning an interview with Secretary LaHood came out. He blasted HR 7 calling it one of the worst pieces of legislation he’s ever seen. You can read the article here. We are thrilled that he didn’t take 45 days to review the bill, that he recognized the devastating outcome the bill would ensure and he took immediate steps to discredit it.
There’s still so much work to do. And larger and heavier trucks are not going away that’s for sure. At Congressman Mica’s press conference when he introduced HR 7 as a jobs bill, the first person he gave credit to was the president of the American Trucking Association. That speaks volumes for the pressure Congress is under from the big trucking companies. Regardless, our small group was at Mica’s press conference, carrying pictures of our loved ones high, silently protesting the bill’s provisions that would have injured more people, killed more people and damaged already tenuous infrastructures.
Our little group made a difference this week. We held our loved ones high in the bright sunshine of Washington DC and we made people who didn’t agree with us listen to our stories. We aren’t going away and every time they try to put their profits ahead of the public’s safety we’ll be there. Every single time.
This one was for you Dad. Thanks for being there with me.
As many of you know I and my family work with the Truck Safety Coalition on safety issues. One of the things we’ve been fighting for is a rule that would require all commercial trucks to have EOBRs (Electronic on-Board Recorders). These devices would track when a commercial vehicle was moving and when it was stopped. The electronic recording of those events would replace the paper logbooks drivers keep now, and help us enforce existing hours of service (HOS) rules that limit how many hours a driver can drive in a row.
This fight is very dear to my heart as it was a tired semi driver that ran into the back of Dad’s car while it was stopped in traffic. Dad died instantly that cold December morning in 2004 and our lives changed forever. Now we work to make it all mean something.
We are close to getting something in the upcoming transportation bill that would require the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to issue a rule to make EOBRs a requirement. The Senate has already passed their version, (S.1813) of the bill with several safety measures spelled out, including a requirement for commercial vehicles to be equipped with EOBRs. Where we are at risk is on the House side.
Currently the House has a committee deciding what to include in their version of the transportation bill, and there is a lot of talk about whether or not to include the requirement for EOBRs. This is where you come in, if you live in Michigan. There are two Michigan House members on this committee: Representative Fred Upton who represents the 6th District and Representative Dave Camp who represents the 4th District. Click the links to see what counties are in each district. We don’t know where either of these men stand on EOBRs and we want to encourage them to keep the truck safety measures that are outlined in S.1813 in the House version, including the requirement for EOBRs on commercial trucks.
Here are just a few of the arguments we’ve heard against EOBRs:
*That they will be used to invade privacy and harass the drivers. Response: EOBRs only record whether or not the vehicle is running. There is no two-way communication system. It’s an objective way to record when the vehicle is running to enforce the Hours of Service rules. In fact this is one way to keep truck companies from pushing their drivers beyond the number of hours that can legally be driven. The drivers can no longer fudge their paper log books.
*That the EOBRs will cost the trucking industry too much. Response: Basic EOBRs cost as little as $499 each. There are no monthly maintenance fees. And the net result of installing these devices is that fatigue will be reduced and lives will be saved.
*That EOBRs do not monitor the working condition of the trucks or the truck speed so why have them? Response: The EOBRs are intended to provide accurate records of a driver’s compliance with Hours of Service rules. They were not intended to provide safety inspection data or record the vehicle’s speed. These are issues dealt with in other ways, with inspection stations and the laws governing speed. EOBRs are not intended to enforce speed limits.
*That EOBRs cannot record how long the individual driver is resting. Response: EOBRs can accurately record a driver’s Hours of Service compliance, minimizing drivers operating beyond the limits of that rule, however, there is no technology available that will ensure a driver will use their time off duty to rest. EOBRs cannot ensure a restful off duty period but they can help to ensure that drivers are not illegally extending their driving hours, or being forced to do so.
These are just a few of the arguments being thrown up by some trucking company officials. Recognize that many large trucking firms already use EOBRs and have realized the win-win opportunity of having safer drivers on the roads which has ultimately saved them money. Smaller companies and independent drivers are many of the organizations that are resisting this change.
Recognize also that every industrial country in the world except the United States already use EOBRs and their roads are safer because of it. They didn’t have to fight the mighty and powerful American Trucking Association. But we do.
So if you live in District 6 or District 4 could you take a moment of a day this week and contact your Representative? Here are the #’s and contact names:
For District 6 – Representative Fred Upton: 202-225-3761. Ask for Legislative aide: Mark Ratner. Or email him at Mark. Ratner@mail.house.gov
For District 4 – Representative Dave Camp: 202-225-3561. Ask for Legislative aide: Rob Guido. Or email him at Rob.Guido@mail.house.gov.
I can’t email either of them because I don’t live in their districts and they have stops in their email that requires you to live in a zip code they represent. I (and anyone else in Michigan) can CALL them, because as members of this committee they are supposed to represent all of our state’s population. In fact I have called, but they’d really rather listen to their own constituency.
Besides, the more people they hear from the better. So please pick a piece of this, the part that resonates the most with you, and call. Ask them where they stand on the EOBR issue. And if they’re against it, ask them why. Even if you don’t have a response for their specific reason, we’d like to know where they stand and why. (You won’t get an email response fast enough to let us know where they stand soon…but you can email them as well if you’d like.)
Just end the call on a positive note, asking that they keep safety as their number one goal. Remind them that EOBRs can save lives. Maybe even someone they love because we all share the same roads.
If you’re able to do this I’d be grateful. Please let me know what they said. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you want more information on this or any other topic, check out the Truck Safety website.
Thanks for helping us make our roads safer. And for remembering Dad and all the other victims of truck crashes. We won’t forget and we won’t stop fighting.
Good news! Excellent news! Long overdue news! Unimaginable, can’t believe it’s finally happened kind of news. The transportation bill was passed by the House and the Senate yesterday, and in it were most of the really big issues that we at the Truck Safety Coalition have been fighting for. Read the announcement for details. At the bottom of the announcement are the names of those Senators and Representatives that pushed for these changes. If any of them are from your state, please take a moment to email them and say thank you. They were unbelievable and deserve our support.
Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, thank you to all of you that have supported us through this journey. To those of you that wrote and called your Senators and Representatives when I asked. To those of you that offered cyber hugs and words of encouragement when I was discouraged. To those of you that felt my family’s pain and embraced it as yours.
Most of America wakes up today unaware of the historic events of yesterday and I’m not talking about the Supreme Court’s ruling on health care which is all the news will talk about. I’m talking about getting Electronic On Board Recorders mandated for commercial trucks. I’m talking about getting a national clearing house that will keep data on drivers with drug and alcohol violations so they can’t just move on to drive in another state. I’m talking about stronger oversight and higher penalties, serious studies on size and weight restrictions, some discussion finally about increasing the minimum liability insurance requirements. I’m talking about life saving changes. And they all came true yesterday.
It wasn’t easy, especially the inclusion of the mandated EOBRs, which are near and dear to my heart. At the last minute an amendment was presented that would have taken the EOBRs out of the bill. We fought back and the end result makes my heart sing and my eyes tear up.We’re looking at a future where it will be easier to enforce the number of hours a driver is allowed to drive. There will be fewer tired truckers on the road. More people will be allowed to live their lives.
You won’t know whose life will be spared because of the events of yesterday. But you can know that you helped to make it possible. Every single one of you. And I can’t begin to thank you enough.
When Dad was killed by a tired trucker in 2004 we didn’t know what to do first. We knew we needed help but we didn’t know where to turn. In desperation a family member started searching the internet and found the Truck Safety Coalition. Their website back then was pretty simple, but it had a phone number and I called the next day. They provided information and support – and an invitation to a conference called Sorrow to Strength. I attended with my sister the next fall only 10 months after Dad was killed. I smile when I remember how young and naive we were then, not in calendar years, but in the ways of politics and Washington DC. I remember being incredibly hurt and thoroughly confused at that first conference. We were still reeling from losing Dad, and we couldn’t absorb all the information provided, but we could absorb the love and support. And we made lifelong friends.
During the first two days we listened to families tell their stories of loss and pain and outrage. So many of their stories sounded like ours. Some of the families had been fighting the fight for many years. We weren’t even sure what the fight was. But we knew we needed to help fix the problem of tired truckers – for Dad and for all these other people’s family members too.
Sunday night we had a remembrance service with photos of our loved ones. Those that could speak told stories about the ones lost; sometimes we laughed along, sometimes we cried together. The important thing was that we could share our folks with others, that they were not forgotten. It was important that people recognized our loved ones’ lives had been about much more than just the crash that took them.
Shortly after the remembrance ceremony we retired to our rooms to study the material we’d been given during the meetings. We were emotionally exhausted, but Monday morning we were going to visit our Senators and House of Representatives. Neither my sister nor I had ever visited a government office before so we were nervous and I don’t think either of us slept well.
But here’s the thing. I did not know then how easy it is to talk to someone in my Senator’s office about things I know are important. Who knew that you could just make an appointment and the staff would be gracious and listen? Who knew you could walk into any Senate or House office building and talk to your representative? Who knew you and I are just as important as the people we see walking government corridors on TV? That our voices and our stories are as or more important? That we can leave an impression, can change things, can fix things.
We met with people in small offices and big conference rooms for two days. We were exhausted but empowered. Maybe things didn’t change instantly after those first meetings. But I can guarantee the people that talked to us, looked at Dad’s picture, even cried with us, were changed. We left a little bit of our pain with other people in every meeting. And we gained a bit of strength with each time we told the story.
We left Washington DC after that first conference with hope. And we left a little bit stronger than when we arrived. Sure we were still hurting. But now we had a direction in which to move, a place to put the hurt. A way to make sure Dad was not forgotten.
That’s the power in Sorrow to Strength. We know we won’t ever be free of the sadness. But making our voices heard, saving other lives? Well. That’s what makes us stronger.
It’s for you Dad. And for all the others. You’ve made us stronger than we ever thought we could be. It’s all for you.
I’m just back from New York; there are five days in this school week and Friday is a midterm so I’m concentrating on that. Other homework and readings are getting put off. Then Saturday I fly to Washington DC to attend the “Sorrow to Strength” Conference. I’m there through Monday night, so next week will be pretty crazy. I wish I wasn’t going to Washington because I already feel like I’m behind in work. But this conference is something I owe my Dad, my siblings and myself. So I go. But I’m taking my laptop and somehow, somewhere, in between sessions I need to get some homework done!
My second of two midterms is now completed. Though I don’t know how I did on either of them yet, I am not that concerned. Talking to other students reassures me that though I didn’t do great, I didn’t totally bomb them either.
Tomorrow morning I leave for Washington DC. The three days are filled with talking about big rigs and trucking issues, unexpected death, meaningless loss, and more importantly what we can do about it. There is a certain comfort in spending time with so many people who are hurting the same way I am. But the closer the conference comes, the more sad I get. It makes me realize the depth of my loss, and worse, makes me face up to the reality of it.
This year I have an added responsibility to make sure the family here in Michigan, whose daughter was killed last July, gets around Washington OK. I want them to feel comfortable and to get the same sense of value we did last time we were there. That there was something, no matter how small, that we could do to make a difference. That’s all any of us want. We want to make a difference so that the people we loved who were killed in horrible crashes will make a difference.
Midterms won’t make a difference. Maybe getting a degree won’t make a difference, though I hope it will. But saving one person’s life; making changes in rules or regulations or just in awareness that ultimately saves one person’s life. THAT is what will make a difference.
I’m back from Washington DC where I attended the Sorrow to Strength conference hosted by the Truck Safety Coalition. The objective of the Coalition is to support the enforcement and strengthening of safety laws surrounding large trucks. I do this because my Dad was killed by a tired trucker. His death was senseless and what’s worse, more people are dying at the hands of tired truckers every day. Fourteen will die today. In fact, more than 5200 people have died in each of the years since Dad’s 2004 death. Over 10,000 people have died in similar crashes since we got that life changing call December 23, 2004. The figures were similar each year prior to his death as well. The trucking industry seems to think this is a cost of doing business. I am beginning to believe it’s outright irresponsible, valuing profit over safety. Their motivation is profit. My motivation is safety. Do we need to kill 5200 people a year in order to get cheaper goods on our store shelves? Would we be willing to pay a few cents more for items to avoid the deaths of so many people? I think everyone would agree that saving 10 cents on our next microwave is not worth the death of a single stranger. Certainly not worth the death of people we know and love.
So the sorrow in the title of our conference revolves around remembering the people we loved who are lost. We had a wonderful grief therapist speak. We held a remembrance ceremony where we sat in a candlelit room and spoke about what we missed about our loved ones. We cried. We hugged. We cried some more. We got angry.
We took that anger and channeled it into something strong, the strength of our conference, when we met with Senators and Representatives’ staff people on Monday, telling our stories and asking for help on multiple truck safety issues. This year I didn’t feel the energy of Capitol Hill. I didn’t feel the hope and promise I felt last year – maybe because I was talking to some of the same people about the same issues as last year. Maybe I am becoming more realistic about change. Maybe my feet just hurt and distracted me. Regardless I am not going to let the feeling of hopelessness overtake me. The mission remains the same; get tired truckers off the road, enforce the laws that are already on the books, and change some laws to make the movement of goods in this country a safer industry.
I know that the trucking industry has a lot of money and a lot of influence on Capitol Hill. I know I’m just one voice, one face. But my face had tears streaking down it, and my voice trembled in anger and pain when I spoke. My eyes locked on Capitol Hill staff’s eyes and dared them to ignore my pleas. I won’t go away. I’ll be back. Again and again I’ll force them to listen to my heartbreaking story and the stories of all the families that I was with this weekend. If staffers want to stop the pain of having to listen to horrible stories then they need to stop the pain the trucking industry is imposing on helpless people who just got in the way of commerce.
In 502 this morning we were discussing game theory. Along the way Professor Chen mentioned that game theory is useful in real life as well as games. She said that in real life a strictly dominated strategy will never be the best reply. I wrote that down to think about later. It resonated with me after my weekend in Washington D.C., a weekend filled with frustration at the slow moving bureaucracy, at the realization that many more people will die as we wait for safety regulations to catch up with the reality of today’s highways. I think our meetings with Senators and House members were nice, but I think we were playing a dominated strategy. We are talking to people that don’t (can’t or won’t) make the decisions to make changes. I think we need to be talking to the people that can and will make those suggestions and can and will write the legislation that we need.
I think after two years of feeling like I’ve been dominated by the trucking industry it’s time for me to figure out a better reply…to figure out the BEST reply, so that I (and others working for the Truck Safety Coalition) have the best chance at getting a dominant equilibrium.
Click Image below for a Photo Gallery from Conference
SORROW TO STRENGTH – RELATED LINKS
Know the Issues
Maps of D.C. and Capitol Hill
2007 SORROW TO STRENGTH CONFERENCE
March 12, 2007 – Press Kit
The Truck Safety Coalition is pleased to announce our 2009 Sorrow to Strength Conference.
Sorrow to Strength is specifically designed for survivors of truck crashes and families/friends of those who have died or been injured. The conference allows us to come together for a weekend of sharing, remembrance, workshops and public policy actions to advance truck safety. This conference is open to all survivors, advocates, and legal/medical professionals interested in advancing truck safety.
The last Sorrow to Strength Conference in 2007 produced an agenda of important truck safety priorities. It also included visits arranged by TSC staff with key lawmakers in Congress, senior officials with the U.S. Department of Transportation, and National Transportation Safety Board Members. Additionally, we released a report card on the most lethal states for truck crashes and on the lack of federal leadership by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in 10 key categories such as truck driver fatigue, truck size and weight, and safety regulation enforcement, at a well-attended press conference in Washington, DC.
This year’s conference comes at a critical crossroads in truck safety as Congress will soon be taking up a multi-billion dollar transportation spending bill, the successor to the 2005 Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act-A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU). Trucking interests have been lobbying Congress to increase the federal truck size and weight limits while also continuing to push for other measures to rollback lifesaving truck safety rules and laws. We need your help and voice in the truck safety debate to counter the views of the trucking industry.
Saturday, May 2nd (tentative start time 1 p.m.) – Tuesday, May 5th, 2009
Hyatt Arlington, 1325 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA
For reservations, please call the hotel directly at 800-233-1234 or go to http://arlington.hyatt.com.
The rate for all nights is $99 per room per night (tax not included). The code you need to mention to get this rate is G-TSC1. There is no fee for the conference itself. Need-based scholarship funding is available to assist with travel costs.
This conference will be organized to discuss both personal experiences and how to work as a powerful, effective constituency. Throughout Sorrow to Strength, you will have the opportunity to meet with safety experts, elected officials, and safety supporters. You play an important role in the fight to improve truck safety and bring down truck crash deaths and injuries. Please, join us for this importantmeeting.
For more information or to answer any questions about Sorrow to Strength, please contact us here or at 1.888.353.4572.
We hope to see you in May!