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.