I woke up this morning thinking about my dad, probably because of an article I read yesterday. It’s so much like our own story, and the stories of thousands of other families.
Many of you know about my dad, but some of you are new readers. And as I haven’t had the opportunity to meet the new Secretary of Transportation, Anthony Fox, yet I thought I’d share my story in a letter to him.
My dad was driving to the Atlanta airport early in the morning of December 23rd, 2004. He was planning on spending the holiday with my sister in New Jersey because most of us couldn’t get home for Christmas that year. Mom had died unexpectedly in July and we didn’t want him to be alone.
On Interstate 85, just past the Georgia line, he came upon an accident. Police and other emergency vehicles were already there, lights flashing. Traffic slowed. There was a car behind Dad who saw, in their mirrors, the semi bearing down. They drove into the median to avoid the crash, but dad didn’t have a chance. He was driving 14 miles per hour when he was hit and pushed into the semi in front of him by a 80,000 pound vehicle that was on cruise control going 65 miles per hour.
Dad was partially ejected through the back passenger window even though he was wearing his seat belt. We saw the car, what was left of it, later that week when we went to the junk yard to retrieve his Christmas presents for my sister, still inside his luggage, in the crushed trunk. There was blood everywhere, but a particularly long wide stain running down the inside of the back seat door held my attention.
The image shocks you doesn’t it.
I don’t mince words any more Mr. Secretary, don’t shield people from the horror, especially not people who can do something constructive. It’s been ten years and I’ve had plenty of hand holding comfort. I don’t need more of that.
Four thousand people die in truck related crashes every year. Not all of them are the fault of the truck driver. But there are many tired and distracted semi drivers on the roads because the laws let them drive more hours than are safely possible and because many companies push their drivers to do even more. Most of these people die as individuals, in crashes that don’t gain press. They die one by one, two by two, across the country and no one pays attention.
Except the families. Sixty-three year old Walter Manz, who died this week in a crash that sounds just like my dad’s, won’t be remembered by the President or his Governor, or even his local Mayor. He won’t make the CNN news loop, his family won’t be interviewed by Anderson Cooper. He’s just one more person lost for no reason.
But his family will be forever changed.
So while we appreciate you meeting with us and listening to our stories here’s what we really need Mr. Secretary. We need more than warm support and kind words. We need more than hugs and tears.
We need you to stand up for safety.
Stand up and work with us to make the transportation industry safer for all of us. Not just the folks in the four wheel vehicles, but for the professional drivers as well. Because for every family that is devastated by the loss of loved ones there’s a driver that is emotionally devastated as well.
We can make a difference. We can make the roads safer. We just need everyone, and especially you Mr. Secretary, to work together toward a mutually satisfying compromise that will save lives. Make safety your legacy. Be remembered as the Secretary that put safety first.
Safety over profits. Has a sort of ring to it doesn’t it.
Thank you for listening.
Dawn Badger King
Bill Badger’s daughter.