William H. Badger. Feb 4, 1929 – December 23, 2004.
Eighteen years without you is a long time. And no time.
You should have had more time.
Sometimes it feels like we’ve made no progress at all. And sometimes I know we’ve at least stopped some of the unsafe propositions, maybe even made a few inroads toward safety.
You should have had more time, and we can’t fix that for you or any of the thousands of families trying to move forward with their own grief. Their own new normal. I hate that term.
Eighteen years ago this morning. Last night, laying sleeplessly in bed, I imagined you getting up so very early in the dark morning, making sure the heat was turned down, the water turned off, and the doors locked, putting your suitcase into the trunk of your car and heading toward the airport.
You never got there. You never got to come home.
It’s not right, not for you or for us. Not for the 5,000 plus families that faced similar facts in 2021, or the as yet unnumbered thousands from 2022. And the hundreds of thousands of injured every single year.
We have to keep working, even though we’re all tired.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Dad’s, and all these stories continue, forever in our hearts.
I took myself off for a camping adventure this week. First stop was a park Katie and I have visited several times. Most of the time we end up in site 43.
Turns out four years ago yesterday Katie and I were at this very site, packing up, heading for home.
But first I took her up to the Mackinaw Bridge, because she had never seen it. She wasn’t all that impressed. And the ride home was extra long because we went north before we went south. But she was a trooper and never complained. Much.
This trip I stopped at a rest stop just before my exit, because it’s one of Katie’s favorite rest stops. Turns out there was a commercial truck inspection going on. All trucks were mandated to pull off the freeway at the rest stop so commercial vehicle inspectors could check their rigs and their hours of service.
I walked over to the table at the front of the inspection line and thanked the two officers there. I told them the truth, that whenever I saw them and a commercial truck pulled over I give them a thumbs up and that it was nice to be able to do that in person.
Then I gave them my Truck Safety Card, thanked them again, and went on my way feeling better about our roads knowing the state police are working on it.
Next month I’ll be in DC again, along with many other families and victims of truck crashes. We’ll be voicing our objections to some things going on (teen truckers) and asking for more changes, (increased minimum insurance, automatic emergency braking on ALL trucks) many of the same changes we’ve been asking ever since I started this journey almost 18 years ago.
One of the things about the trucking industry that makes no sense to me is the way many commercial truck drivers are paid. They get paid by the mile. The more miles they can fit into a work day the more they are paid. It’s on the drivers (and sometimes dispatchers) to figure out how to get the most miles into their day.
It’s a fundamental problem underlying many of our safety concerns surrounding fatigued driving.
For years those of us in the truck safety family have known this, but the pay structure for drivers is so entrenched in the industry’s business model it wasn’t even open for discussion. Lately there’s been some discussion about the unpaid waiting times drivers have to tolerate at many shipper’s and receiver’s loading docks.
In fact, there’s starting to be a swell of voices, some from within the industry, some from safety advocates, about the responsibility sections of the supply chain have been avoiding for years. There’s no cost to a company shipping product if the driver of the truck hauling that product is held up waiting to be loaded. There’s no cost to the retailer if the driver has to wait hours to unload.
The cost rest squarely on the truck driver’s shoulders, because they are not paid for those hours. They’re only paid if their wheels are rolling. And if they spend hours waiting while watching their income be frittered away, they will generally driver longer and faster to make that income up.
And that’s the risk to all of us.
My dad, sitting in traffic, was a victim of a truck driver driving all night to try to earn a living. Dad isn’t the only one to die because of the way drivers are paid. There are thousands of families just like mine.
Approximately 5,000 people die annually in crashes with commercial trucks. Eight hundred truck drivers die every year. Not all of these crashes are fatigue related. But a lot are. There’s no box on the police accident report to indicate fatigue was a factor in a crash, and we know that fatigue is grossly underreported.
We can add all the safety features invented to a commercial truck, but if we don’t fix the way they’re paid, if we don’t reduce the need to get a full day of wages by working more than a full day of hours, then the fatigue risk will always be there.
But now, finally, there is some movement in Congress to address this problem. Representative Andy Levin (from Michigan!) introduced H.R. 7517, the Guaranteeing Overtime for Truckers Act (GOT Truckers Act), which would void the exemption in the Fair Labor Standards Act that exempts truck drivers from receiving overtime.
And here’s where you can help. Please email your House of Representatives member, and ask them to cosponsor H.R.7517 to allow truck drivers to be paid overtime. You can find the name and website of your Member of Congress here.
This bill won’t fix all the issues surrounding fatigue in the trucking industry, but it’s a start. Let’s see if we can raise our voices for the safety of everyone. Truck drivers included.
Thank you, as always, for your support. I recently did a birthday Facebook fundraiser for the Truck Safety Coalition, setting my goal at $400. I raised $1,000. I have the best friends. If you happen to have missed it and want to tip me over that $1,000 mark, the fundraiser is up for a couple more days. And if you donated already, thank you soooooo much.
You guys make me smile. I think Dad’s smiling too.