It’s that time of year again, when nonprofits tally up what they’ve accomplished and work out the details for the year ahead.
And when they ramp up their fundraising efforts.
There are so many good causes, all of them vying for our attention — and that’s not even including the political candidates who are daily asking for donations. It all makes me want to crawl back into bed, pull the sheet up to my chin, and watch mindless television until this winter is over.
But that won’t solve the world’s problems, and for almost every problem there is a deserving group of people trying to make things better.
Many of you know what problem I’ve been trying to make better, the issues I’ve been working on for the past fifteen years. But in case you don’t, let me tell you the story.
And then I’ll make the hard ask.
Very early on the morning of December 23rd, 2004 my dad was driving from his Alabama home to the Atlanta airport with the intent of catching a flight north to spend Christmas with my sister. It’s a two hour drive, and his flight was at 10 a.m. so he left long before daylight.
About an hour into his trip, just after he passed the Alabama/Georgia line and right in front of a truck weigh station traffic slowed and then stopped. Up ahead not too far away was a small fender bender crash; there were already police and fire trucks attending to the scene. A trooper was waving traffic into the left lane.
Multiple sets of emergency vehicle lights were flashing in the dark morning along that straight stretch of freeway.
Dad pulled over behind a semi truck. Another car pulled over behind dad. The semi behind that car, driven by a young man who was exhausted, did not stop. The car behind dad noticed the semi coming and pulled over into the median.
My dad didn’t stand a chance as the semi barreled into him at 65 miles per hour.
And so the story of our family changed in that instant. My mother had died suddenly with no warning in July. Dad was killed in December. Their four adult children were left stunned.
But we wanted answers. How could the truck driver not see all those emergency vehicles ahead of him? Everyone else was able to slow and move over. Why not that semi?
Turns out the driver fell asleep. He fell asleep while driving a vehicle because he had driven all night in order to get a load of electronics to Atlanta to be sold for Christmas. He was enticed by his dispatcher to push to Atlanta even though he was tired, enticed by the offer of another load heading to Florida where he lived. If he made it to Atlanta that morning he could take the load to Florida. He could be home for Christmas.
Instead he spent the day in jail and my dad spent the day in the morgue.
As we learned more we found out that this is not an isolated thing, semi trucks are plowing into the back of stopped traffic almost daily. There are a lot of reasons why, and there are a lot of other safety issues in the trucking industry too. Most of the problems are not the drivers, but the way the industry operates and has historically treated drivers.
But what is not complicated is that almost 5,000 people die in crashes with big commercial trucks every year, and over 100,000 are injured. Since my dad was killed almost 75,000 people have been killed in truck crashes. A million and a half people have been injured.
And everywhere any push for change is met with resistance. From the ATA (American Trucking Association) and the Independent Operators. Because changes for safety are perceived as challenges to profit.
And that’s where the Truck Safety Coalition comes in. It’s a nonprofit, combining CRASH (Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways) and PATT (Parents Against Tired Truckers). Both groups are made up of volunteers who are family members of those killed or injured. The coalition provides a combined management of staff and resources for the two groups as they fight to educate the public and the industry about issues that make our roads unsafe for everyone.
This past year we focused on four bills that we have in the House and Senate, each one addressing a different issue. We support speed limiters for truks, underride guards on trucks to prevent cars from sliding under the semi in a crash, increased liability insurance, from the $750,000 required since 1980 to something indexed to inflation, and especially requiring automatic emergency braking for large commercial trucks.
Automatic emergency braking might have saved my dad.
In 2019 we also held a four day conference so that families of victims and those injured can gather together, gain strength from each other, and learn about the issues and how to talk about them. Then the volunteers go out and meet with their Representatives and Senators, pushing for support on the legislation we have pending.
All of this work costs money. Some of the volunteers are able to donate, but many didn’t receive a settlement, are regular working people trying to support their families and don’t have much to spare.
And that’s where the hard ask comes in.
There are two ways you can help us. Because Tuesday is “Giving Tuesday” on Facebook, I started a donation post there in the hopes that we’ll get matched, though to be honest I doubt it, there are so many others out there that we have never had a match from Facebook.
The second way, and perhaps the more efficient way, is if you would consider donating directly at our website. This link will put you directly on the donation page. But if you would like to know more about the organization, I’ll put the home URL here.
It’s hard for me to ask you, my readers, my supporters, Katie fans, music lovers, photography nerds, to donate to my cause. I’ve never been a great salesperson. And most people don’t think this is an issue that relates to them.
Until it does.
Because truck crashes aren’t political, they aren’t blue or red, they focus on no specific religion, no social class, crashes don’t care if you’re straight or gay, male or female. Mothers and fathers, and sister and brothers and uncles and aunts and best friends and lovers and babies die in crashes caused by unsafe practices.
And truck drivers die.
Driving a truck is one of the most dangerous jobs in this country. In 2017 about 800 truck drivers died just doing their jobs. The work we do will save drivers’ lives too.
So. During this hectic holiday season when all you want to do is focus on family and friends, good food, days off work, colored lights and beautiful music, I’m asking you to think, for a moment, about trucks and death.
I know it isn’t easy.
Just know there are thousands of families out there this holiday season who are missing someone lost to an avoidable crash. There are families out there struggling with huge medical bills for the care of their injured loved ones. There are families out there that are turning their grief into energy for change, to honor their family or friend. To do something with the pain.
Help us continue that work. Please give what you can.
I will be forever grateful.