Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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The story continues

Some of you know I was in Washington DC last week, but do you know why? Long term readers might remember the story of my dad who was killed December 23rd of 2004 while slowed in traffic when he was hit from behind by a semi driven by a sleepy driver. I and other members of my family have been working on truck safety issues ever since.

Looking for change from our political leaders.

Last weekend the Truck Safety Coalition held our biannual Sorrow to Strength conference, where survivors and families of victims from across the country met, provided emotional support to each other, and became educated on the issues.

Saturday and Sunday we spent listening to each other and preparing for the meetings to come.

Working the halls of Congress.

Monday and Tuesday we spread out in small groups across Capitol Hill, talking to staff and members of Congress about what happened to us, and the solutions we want implemented in order to save lives.

It is hard but necessary work.

Some of us gathering before our first meetings.

Almost 5,600 people died in commercial truck crashes in 2021. That’s a 13% increase in fatalities over 2020. And over 146,000 people are injured every single year.

Obviously there is much work still to be done. To bring it down to a more human scale, let me tell you the stories of two women, each bearing the unimaginable consequences of the trucking industry’s drive for profits.

Sometimes the sheer size of government can make a person feel unimportant.

Alexandra is a young woman married only two years when she and her husband moved from Idaho to Atlanta where she planned to attend law school. Last November her husband was sitting at a red light when his vehicle was hit from behind by a semi. He is now paralyzed from the neck down and unable to do anything for himself. Alexandra and her mother-in-law have been taking turns sitting with him and advocating for his care in several hospitals and rehab facilities.

But our stories ARE important. My sister and me before her meeting.

She’s a strong woman, Alexandra. She talks about the crash, about the care she provides for her husband, about their impending move back to Idaho to be closer to family. But when she talks about fighting with insurance carriers and the almost $5 million in medical debts she and her husband now owe, she begins to cry.

We have to tell the world.

The minimum amount of liability insurance a carrier has to have is $750,000. That was set in 1980 and has never been increased over the more than 40 years since. Though there’s probably no amount of required insurance that would cover all of the medical costs for Alexandra and her husband, certainly they deserve to have their expenses covered. He deserves to get the best care and therapy available, and he won’t get that if they are on Medicaid.

He was sitting at a red light.

We all sit at red lights.

It’s OUR government, intended to work for all of us.

And then there’s Elise. Her four children were visiting their father in another state, driving to a relative’s house to enjoy summer fun in a backyard pool on a hot July day in 2020. Their dad slowed down entering a construction zone. The semi behind was driven by a man who was high on meth and fentanyl. He hit the family’s car going over 70 mph. It was pushed into the semi in front of them and then into the guard rail where it burst into flame. The children’s dad was pulled out of the car, badly burned. But no one could see the four children in the smoke and flames.

All four of Elise’s children died in that crash.

When I reflect on my life Dad’s death was pivotal.

Elise told her story over and over during our two days on the Hill. She calls herself a mother with no children. I witnessed her dissolve into tears, then take a deep breath and continue on to ask for automatic emergency brakes on all trucks. She does this, with courage, in memory of her children. The least we can do to listen.

More families, more grief, more sharing, more requests for change.

Starting the rule making process for automatic emergency brakes on trucks was part of the last infrastructure bill, but only for the biggest trucks, class 7 and 8. Smaller commercial trucks were not included, and we all know those trucks are buzzing around our neighborhoods every day.

Elise’s children were slowed in a construction zone. We all slow down in construction zones.

It takes a lot of walking, a lot of talking, a lot of LISTENING to make change.

We can listen to these stories and hundreds, thousands of similar stories and send positive thoughts and prayers. That’s nice. But what these two women really want is change. It’s what all of us attending the conference want, change, so that fewer people die and get injured in preventable commercial truck crashes.

But change is hard.

There are bills in the House and Senate ( For example, HR 2687 for raising insurance minimums, HR 1622/S 605 for underride protection on trucks) to make change revolving around several of our issues. But this session of Congress is wrapping up and in the new year we will have to start asking for bills to be reintroduced.

You can help by calling your Senator or House Representative when things heat up again. And you can count on me to let you know all about it.

Some members of Congress are listening. This is Rep. Bustos from Illinois.

Dad’s, and all these stories continue, forever in our hearts.

Miss you, dad. Watch over us as we push forward, OK?


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Truck rant

(This was written in January 2012. It was sitting in my draft folder, never posted, probably because I was afraid of offending someone. Now, nine years later, the same issues are still being studied by the DOT. Other than mandating unboard recorders nothing has been accomplished there.)

Warning – this is probably not going to be politically correct.  And I remind myself that what’s put out on the internet stays on the internet.  Good or bad.  But I’m working on truck safety stuff again, which makes me relive some of the initial moments and days after Dad’s crash.  And some things just need to be said.  Out loud.  Emphatically.

I’m heading to Washington again, for more meetings with the DOT; Secretary LaHood, FMSCA Administrator Anne Ferro and then members of Congress, to talk about things that can be done to improve safety.  Sometimes it all feels pointlessly repetitive, like we’re just wasting time, ours and theirs.

But then I remember.

I remember getting the call at work.  I remember signing papers to have Dad cremated and faxing them to the funeral home from a retail UPS store the night before Christmas Eve. I remember suffering through the holiday cheer of the employees as I waited for my confirmation while trying not to cry.  I remember sitting in my brother’s Alabama living room the night of Christmas Eve listening to the county coroner explain what happened.  I remember not understanding.

And this is what I can tell you now that I know more, understand more.

I know that though Dad was the kind of guy that would fix things and make them better, dead is forever and dead can’t be fixed.  And as much as I want to I can never make my family whole.  I told my sister, a couple of years into this journey, that if we could save one life through our efforts with the Truck Safety Coalition we’d be even.  She said “No we won’t.”  And she’s right.  We will never be even, not ever again.

So we can’t fix the fact that Dad is dead.  But we can fix fatigued driving.  And though common sense says that the easiest way to fix fatigued driving is to lower the number of hours a person can consecutively drive, well, maybe I’m just a naive civilian.

I received an emailed response from Administrator Ferro to my own emotional email expressing my displeasure with the new Hours of Service rule.  She says, and rightly so, that reducing truck crashes will take a complicated combination of rules, a push toward safety from many fronts –  and that reducing the number of allowed hours would continue to be studied.  She assures me a reduction in consecutive hours of driving could still be on the table.  OK.  So let’s study this for another year or more.  Apparently the people that will be killed by fatigued drivers during this period of study are expendable…collateral damage if you will.

Or maybe they’re just the cost of doing business.  After all, the trucking industry is the backbone of our economy, don’t you know.  So what’s good for the ATA (American Trucking Association) is good for all of us.   Right?  Well maybe good for everyone except those of us who get calls in the middle of the day, those of us signing our family member away to a funeral home, those of us left with a hole that can never be filled.  Those of us angry in our grief.

I’m not apologizing for this rant.  It’s your choice to read or not read.  Comment or not.  It wasn’t written for you.  It was written for me.  Because I have to go back to Washington and talk to these people again about common sense safety issues.  And I shouldn’t have to.  I shouldn’t have to explain simple concepts to people that are in power and are supposed to be experts in their fields.  I shouldn’t have to exploit Dad’s death to get something done.  I shouldn’t have to relive the whole thing over and over and over so that they can justify ‘studying’ things some more.

Give it up people.  The time for studying and discussion is over.  We need some action.  People are dying.

I don’t know what more I can say.


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Multiple smiles

Even if you don’t live in the United States you might have heard that this was a very big week here. Yes, Wednesday was Inaugural Day, where we had a peaceful transition of power between Presidential administrations, based on the November election. You probably also know that this year it wasn’t so easy because the former President never conceded that he lost the election.

But this post isn’t about all that controversy. It’s about things worth smiling about.

My first broad smile on Wednesday was also laced with tears, as I watched the honor guard salute Kamala Harris as she walked with her husband toward the West Front of the Capital where she would be sworn in as Vice President. The fact that they were saluting her made me realize the importance of the moment. I was witnessing history.

Smile one.

Then there was the President’s speech, full of hope even as we face huge challenges, politically, racially and from the virus. So many things that need immediate attention. I smiled a few times while he spoke, but I smiled the deepest when he said:

“Let’s begin to listen to one another again, hear one another, see one another, show respect to one another. Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire destroying everything in its path. Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war.”

I think this is key to our moving forward as a nation. I don’t think it will be easy, we’ve all pretty much entrenched ourselves in our respective views. But suppose, just for a moment, that we could try to put what we believe aside and ask pertinent questions and then listen to the answers from those that think differently from us. Just suppose what we might be able to accomplish.

Smile two.

And of course there’s Amanda Gorman, America’s Youth Poet Laureate. She radiated fire and hope and possibility and made me smile as soon as she stepped up to the lectern. She was spellbinding, both her words and her movement making their points so fast I was afraid I was missing something and I focused in a way I haven’t for a very long time.

I read her poem in full the next day and realized I had indeed heard every bit of it, but it’s something I think we’d all do well to read periodically. There’s something to be learned and understood in her words. Right now my favorite lines:

“Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed
a nation that isn’t broken
but simply unfinished”

“That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious
Not because we will never again know defeat
but because we will never again sow division”

“A country that is bruised but whole,
benevolent but bold,
fierce and free
We will not be turned around
or interrupted by intimidation
because we know our inaction and inertia
will be the inheritance of the next generation”

And of course the end…

“The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it”

Yes, Amanda Gorman made me smile, through tears I admit, the broadest of all. Because she represents the future of our country. And just see what we have to look forward to!

Smile three.

And then, as just a bit of an extra smile this week, a Carolina wren landed on my feeder this morning.

Just to make sure my week kept on smiling.

What made you smile this week? Write a quick post and link it by Sunday to Trent’s blog so we can all smile together!


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What matters in the end

Yesterday was Inauguration Day. Depending on where you stand it might have been a wonderful, uplifting day or it might have been a tragedy. I have thoughts about all that swirling around in my head – they may or may not spill out eventually.

But that’s not where my head or heart are today.

Because, you see, last night, after a day where the world focused on the big picture, after the sun set in a show we haven’t seen here in years, once the world went still, my neighbor left this earth quietly, his departure marked only by family.

The end of an extraordinary day.

I tell you this not because it was a tragedy, though they will miss him fiercely, but because it reminds me this morning of what is important. It’s not the arguments over real or imagined fears, it’s not the friendships destroyed by political influence, it’s not cabinet appointments or policy changes.

What’s important, really, are the relationships we all have, with our family members, with our friends, with our neighbors. Those are what need to be protected, those are fragile, those will not last forever. Those are what we must work on now.

Last night the birdhouse our neighbor made for us many years ago fell from it’s tree. And last night our neighbor broke free, no longer in pain, no longer confused, no longer in tears.

God speed Jack, Katie and I will miss sitting on your front porch in conversation, or near the end, in communal silence, watching the world go by. She looks toward your house when we’re out on walks and will still tug me toward your driveway. Thanks for always giving her an ear scratch. She’ll miss your, “Whatcha doing girl?”

So will I.


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A political smile is not an oxymoron

This week President-Elect Biden nominated Pete Buttigieg as Secretary of Transportation. This made me more than smile. It made me grin and then sort of tear up.

No matter your politics, if you have an issue you want your government to understand, it’s akways a relief when you find someone willing to listen without judgement. And you all know I have some truck safety issues I’ve been trying to get heard for the past sixteen years.

The last four years have been frustrating as safety advocates were not welcome to the table at the Department of Transportation. Numerous requests for meetings were ignored or flatly denied. In past years we’ve been able to meet with the Secretary, but not in the latest administration. I don’t know that it would have changed anything anyway.

So I’m relieved that the President-Elect has nominated a person that appears willing to listen to all sides of an issue. I watched Buttigieg during the debates and found his comments to be thoughtful and measured. Calm. Just the kind of person I’d like to present my facts to.

I have high hopes that the person nominated for the Admistrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will also be willing to listen to safety’s side on all the issues. I think if we remind Buttigieg that safety is in their title and therefore their main responsibility we might have a shot.

Anyway…this was my biggest smile of the week. I hope his confirmation goes through without a hitch. I know he’s had some issues when he was mayor. I know he’s young. I know he doesn’t come from the trucking industry (and for me, that’s a plus), but he’s wildly intelligent, compassionate and personable.

He can learn the industry stuff. After all, the families of the thousands killed and injured each year learn it the hard way. It’s got to be a lot less painful to learn it just by being willing to listen.


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Giving Tuesday thanks

Here it is Friday already and I haven’t been back to thank so many of you for your support of my Giving Tuesday Facebook fundraiser.

As you may remember I was raising funds for CRASH (Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways) which is a 501c3 under the umbrella of the Truck Safety Coalition (TSC). I’m a volunteer with them, and have been since dad was killed December 23, 2004 by a tired semi driver who failed to see traffic stopped ahead of him.

Anyway, giving Tuesday is a way for people to easily donate to nonprofits and many of you donated to mine, and I can’t thank you enough.

This year we had two anonymous donors each willing to match the first $10,000 we raised, so it was very important that collectively we get to that magic mark, and we did! We actually raised about $13,000, so all in all the organizations, between CRASH and P.A.T.T (Parents Against Tired Trucking, the other organization under the TSC umbrella) raised $33,000.

This is much more than we’ve ever been able to raise on this platform before, and that’s due to our First Reponse Coordinator getting behind the effort, organizing us and cheering us on. Next year we hope to have even more volunteers put up their own fundraiser on Giving Tuesday so that we can raise even more.

By maintaining our fundraisers, talking about them throughout the day (I even did a live interview), changing the images at the top, sharing it often, we not only kept ourselves front and center, but we reenergized our donor base and our volunteers.

Now we’re ready to start work — there is much to be done, and with your help we’ll be able to move forward, helping more people, one family at a time. If you weren’t able to help, that’s OK, I appreciate your emotional support as much as your monetary support. I know you guys have my back and that counts more than you can ever know.

Again, thank you all so much.


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Contemplation on this historic day

I’ve been pretty distracted while waiting on election results. Day after day with seemingly little movement.

It’s been a dark and stormy process.

I’ve been trying to stay out of the fray on Facebook and twitter. Once in awhile I’ve weighed in with my opinion that the reason it was taking so long was the inordinate amount of mail in ballots, the record level of turnout for this election, and the care that ballot counters were taking to get it right.

But to be honest my nerves were frayed.

Everyone is feeling a little prickly.

I know that a good portion, maybe even more than 50% of my friends are from the other side of the aisle. I know that today, when the election was finally called, they feel the same gut punch I felt 4 years ago when I woke up to a result I didn’t expect and didn’t like.

Bits of sky show the promise of sun.

I know it will take them a few days, maybe longer, to process the results and decide how they’re going to move forward. I know they are just as scared about the future now as I was four years ago.

Most of us have some inner soul searching to do.

And I know that we will continue to be friends, and I hope, as the physical evidence of which side we’re on, those pesky yard signs, are put away that we can move forward together.

The winds of politics are changing.

The world won’t have changed so very much after January 20th. We’ll still have covid, economic hardships, climate change, world squirmishes, racial tension, job insecurities, and probably some stuff we don’t even know about yet, to deal with. If we work on these together life will be easier.

If you need a hug, I’m available.

Here’s hoping there’s a big table somewhere that everyone is invited to as we begin the work.

Lean toward the light.


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All we can do is wait

A nod to Justice Ginsburg with the pearls.

As my husband said, after we delivered the last campaign yard sign to our last assigned precinct last night, “All we have to do now is vote.” And now that we’ve done that, well…all that’s left, after months of discussion and work and meetings, well, all that’s left to do is wait.

I’m hoping you’re all waiting patiently too. This year it’s going to take a lot of patience, and perhaps it’s best not to spend too much time watching those pundits on TV tonight. Maybe play a game, or watch a movie, even get to bed early and catch up on some sleep.

Tomorrow will come soon enough and if we’re very lucky we’ll know the results then. But we may need even more patience, days or weeks of patience.

I guess, thinking about it, I’m wrong when I say all that’s left to do is wait. I think it’s also our jobs to keep things peaceful, tamp down the rhetoric, keep family and friends calm. Come to think of it, that might be the most important thing we do during this election cycle after all.

Wishing all of you a peaceful, restful evening this election day, and in the days ahead.