The Long View and VICTORY!
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.
Heading to DC
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.
Where to Begin
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.
This Is How You Can Help
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.
Happy Birthday Dad
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.
Need your help now Michiganders
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 email@example.com. 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.
When dreams come true
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.