Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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Truck safety earworms

The term earworm generally refers to a bit of music that’s trapped in your head, playing over and over inside your brain long after you heard the actual song. And that’s just what happened inside my brain today as I worked to weed my impossibly overgrown gardens.

With Congresswoman Norton

I keep hearing a mother’s voice as she described her young daughter’s journal, filled with life lessons, found two days after her twelve year old was killed in a school bus that was struck by a semi driven by a distracted driver. I hear another mother’s anguish as she described the crash that killed her seven year old sitting in the back seat of her stopped car when a semi slammed into the back of them. And the voices of the young adult children whose parents were killed when the semi hit them head on, going the wrong way down a mountain road. I hear the tremor in a survivor’s voice as she describes being pushed off a bridge by a semi. I hear the anguish in a husband’s voice as he talks about his wife and stepchildren gone in an instant.

Day 1 on the Hill, visiting my Representative.

I spent five days in Washington D.C. with these and many other families at the Truck Safety Coalition’s biannual conference we call Sorrow to Strength. It’s something of an emergence into grief, but it’s also a place to witness the rebuilding strength that comes from being together with others who have had similar experiences.

Before the press conference.

We spent Saturday getting to know each other, to offer comfort and hugs and empathetic tears. We laughed together too, over the silly things we miss about our loved ones lost to truck crashes, about the things we used to do but can’t any longer if we are injured survivors.

Representative Garcia, from Illinois, introduced the new bill to increase minimum insurance.

Sunday we buckled down and learned about the issues, many of which were contributing factors in our own crashes. This year we have four bills in Congress that we support, all focused on making the roads safer for everyone, truck drivers included.

Then, on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday we went to work, walking Capitol Hill and visiting offices of Senators and Representatives to educate, as well as transportation agencies to discuss the lack of rule making progress.

Things in Washington move with great deliberation.

It was hot, with temperatures in the 90s and a heat index well above that.

It was especially hot during a press conference we held on the Capitol grounds at noon on Tuesday. We were lucky to have three Congressmen introducing two new truck safety bills, and we were glad to support them by standing behind the podium holding pictures of our lost loved ones.

Kate talks about the multiple surgeries, costing millions, that her son needed after his crash.

But man, it was hot.

Regardless, our families were troopers and made it to all their assigned meetings, sometimes wringing wet, sometimes red faced, but there. People who never spoke in public before spoke to strangers in Congressional offices and spoke up at DOT meetings even while facing a row of men in suits.

And they did it all because of love.

Day 2, with one of my Senators who has cosponsored one of our bills.

Their love for those lost is bigger than any fear of the unknown. Bigger then the fear of being uncomfortable or sweaty or lost in the long marble halls of a Senate office building. Their love carried them through the telling of their stories over and over, reliving it each time, each time adding one more scar on top of the thousands of scars already lacerating their hearts.

A crash survivor being interviewed after the press conference.

And at the end of our time together there were more tears and hugs as we said goodbye to our Truck Safety Family, knowing that we’re never truly alone, even on our worst days, because these people have our hearts and our backs. Most of us will stay in touch through email and social media. And though we wish we didn’t have to, we’re ready to do it all again when D.C. calls.

Some of my Truck Safety family, ready to generate some change.

Love conquers all and our loved ones deserve to be remembered, not just for the way they died, or were injured, but for the way they lived. And that’s why I don’t mind the earworms dancing in my brain today.

We made time for ice cream.

It’s just another way of remembering them all.

Change is hard.


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Never stop

Day one of our Sorrow to Strength conference was a success, but oh so emotional as the 30+ families each shared the reasons they were attending. Survivors relived their crashes, tears often streaking down their faces. Families of those lost did the same. No one was judgemental. No one was impatient as we let those emotions flow.

And at the end, when our large, sad and somewhat soggy family was all talked out, one of the volunteers passed out bracelets she had made. One for each person, placed into hands still holding damp tissue.

She chose the hummingbird, she said, because they never stop.

Just like us.


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In the heat of the moment – Washington DC

A press conference a couple years ago.

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We’re headed to Washington DC today, to attend over the weekend and into next week, the 8th Sorrow to Strength conference. Many of you know that I’m a volunteer for the Truck Safety Coalition, that I’ve been working with them on truck safety issues ever since my dad was killed by a tired trucker in December of 2004.

Every other year a lot of families, all whose lives have been forever changed by truck crashes, meet in DC to provide support to each other and to lobby for safer truck regulation.

Tami, a good friend now, lost multiple members of her family in a truck crash and resulting fire.

It’s hard.

But it’s good too, to reconnect with people we’ve come to know and to meet the new families, fresh in their grief.

At another press conference, fighting double 33 foot trailers.

I’ll let you know more about it next week, if I have time to post, or after we get home if I don’t.

Safety is no accident.


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Truck rant

Several lives changed or ended abruptly in Colorado Thursday, April 25th.

Photo taken from the internet.

As many of you saw on national news a semi truck came barreling down a mountainside, out of control according to witnesses, stopping only when it struck rush hour traffic. Four people were killed. Ten people, including the semi driver, were treated for injuries.

This crash brought out strong emotions in me, the daughter of a man killed by a semi driven by a sleepy driver. I know first hand how difficult the road ahead will be for the families of those killed, and have friends who know all about the hurdles facing the surviving victims.

The driver’s life has changed forever too. He’s been charged with 40 charges, including four counts of vehicular homicide. His family, of course, supports him.

He was newly hired at the Texas company who owned the truck, a company who has had previous safety violations, including those involving brakes. He was only driving a truck temporarily to earn some money. He wasn’t planning on becoming a professional driver, though he was happy to get the job.

But the story gets even worse.

This crash was the perfect storm of all the things that can go wrong when an inexperienced driver gets into the seat of an 80,000 pound vehicle, working for a small, independent company. A company that obviously didn’t care about safety, as evidenced by their earlier safety violations and the lack of training. A small company, with only five trucks, a company that carries only the minimum liability insurance of $750,000.

That minimum insurance is required for a truck company to operate, the law requiring it was implemented in 1980 and has never been increased even though the cost of living, including medical costs, have skyrocketed since. Small companies often carry only that much, even though, as we can see, the death and destruction caused by a semi crash doesn’t correlate to the size or wealth of the company.

So those four families who’s loved ones died last week, and the families of all those injured, some still in the hospital, will have to split the available liability insurance of $750,000 between them, and share it with the state of Colorado too, if there are any needed road repairs as a result of this crash.

Seven Hundred Fifty Thousand doesn’t begin to cover the costs. It won’t begin to compensate families for their losses. It won’t cover lost wages, or pain meds, skin grafts or surgeries. And what about the company itself, the one who put that young driver in the driver’s seat and sent him off to the mountains of Colorado with faulty brakes?

They will likely file bankruptcy and start up again the next day under another name. And don’t think they’ll have learned anything from this – the likelihood of them becoming a safer truck company in their next incarnation is negligible.

Because for companies like this it’s not about safety. It’s all about the money.

And unless we raise the liability insurance minimum to something substanstial so that the insurance company will underwrite the truck company, including it’s safety record, until we require companies to cover a larger portion of any damage they cause, then there’s no incentive to put safety first.

The opposing argument is that increased insurance requirements would be too expensive, that it would put small truck companies out of business. Well. My opinion is if you can’t afford the actual cost of doing business you should find another business to be in. Don’t pass your costs on to innocents, who will then have to file bankruptcy themselves, buried under medical bills, and eventually get assistance from Medicaid, which is paid for by all taxpayers.

I don’t know about you, but to me it’s only common sense to tie the required level of liability insurance to the rise in medical expenses. But I know that’s not likely to happen all at once, if at all. I’d be happy to get it raised to $2 million, which also wouldn’t have been enough to handle all the loss and expenses from last week’s crash.

This week some of those families are likely finding out there’s little to nothing available to them to help them in their new normal. It’s going to feel like a slap in the face.

Image taken from the internet.

Those people were sitting in their cars in rush hour traffic. Doing nothing wrong. They got up to go to work or school or the grocery store and the world as they knew it imploded in a split second because of greed. Because profit trumps safety. Because people, with no thought of anyone else, made some very bad decisions.

For those involved in the April crash spring will never come again in quite the same way.

And this is why we go to Washington, over and over and over again. Because someday someone will hear, finally hear, how crazy this all is. This year it’s remotely possible that there will be another attempt to get the minimum required level raised. If that happens I’ll ask you all to call and text and email your Washington Representatives and Senators.

It takes a lot to get their attention, so we’ll need you all. Thank you for reading this far, and thank you for your support.

The regulrly scheduled blog will continue shortly. While you wait, if you’re the praying sort, send a little prayer up for the families involved in this crash, and for the victims of all the other crashes happening daily across our country.

Thank you.

Hey Dad. Hope you’re showing the new people around heaven.


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So they aren’t forgotten

Something horrible happened in this beautiful place.


We’ve all seen them, those markers of loss by the side of the road. Do you wonder about the person they represent? When a new one appears do you feel a sudden stab of emotion?

I do.

Sometimes these memorials act as reminders to drive safely.

I think I’ve always unconsciously noticed the markers, but ever since my dad was killed on a Georgia freeway I’ve been more aware.

And more curious.

I don’t know who this was, or what it symbolizes, but I nod hello when I go by.

Because I know we as a family wanted the spot that dad died be marked. A life changing event happened there and it seemed wrong that the road returned to normal almost immediately after. That thousands of people passed by and no one knew what an extraordinary place it was.

Somehow you want people to know.

Sadly, turned left in front of a truck.

So for a few years I’ve stopped at roadside memorials, wherever it was safe to do so, and taken a picture to document the name and dates.

The driver lost control, she was ejected from the vehicle.

And back at home I’d try to find something out about that person. Sometimes I’d find a report of the crash, or the obituary.

See the gash at the bottom of the tree? I think she became an angel right here.

And then, each time I passed the memorial I’d remember that person, sort of an acknowledgement of their existence, a bit of sorrow at the way they left.

State trooper hit by vehicle pulling a trailer, dragged to his death.

I think that’s what the families want, to keep their loved one alive in the minds or hearts of people.

It’s not always a religious symbol.

I feel sad for all of them, but none so much as the young ones. The young drivers, the children who happened to be in the vehicles.

A young driver, he crossed the center line on a curve.

There seem to be so many of them.

Nothing permanent, just left the flowers from the funeral. Motorcycle hit a deer, then a car hit him.

So what, are you asking, did we do at the site of the crash that killed dad? It’s on a very busy piece of freeway, about an hour west of Atlanta, right at a truck weigh station. We knew we couldn’t safely stop there for much more than a moment.

Some crashes happened so long ago, but family never forgets.

So we concocted a plan.

We bought three bags of daffodil bulbs, loaded up into the car with a pic and a shovel and drove there one rainy afternoon. We pulled over as far as we could, piled out of the car, hacked a hole in the soil, tossed the bulbs in and covered them up as fast as we could while cars and trucks streamed by.

Some are so recent.

In the fourteen years since, I’ve rarely been in the South at the right time of year, and never have I taken the more than hour drive from the lake over to the crash site to see if they’ve survived.

The loss of small children breaks my heart.

But last spring I went.

And the road was still as busy, several lanes of trucks and cars flying by. Lots and lots of trucks on all sides of me. I couldn’t really take a long look. But out of the corner of my eye, as I passed the site I saw something.

Waiting in the dying light to offer solace.

Just a simple flash of yellow, there below the guardrail.

I’m not sure how many daffodils were in bloom, I think more than one. To be honest it could have been a yellow solo cup, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that for a brief moment, driving down that freeway, my heart sang and I smiled.

So many stories lost.

So if the daffodils really bloom, there along the highway every spring, then I have to think a few other people have noticed them as they speed past. And maybe they smiled too, and wondered at their meaning.

And I think dad would have enjoyed the beauty and mystery of that.

Hope.


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Washington recap

Some of you have been wondering exactly what we do when we go to DC to work on truck safety issues. And now that I’ve brought that up I suppose there are some of you newbies to the blog that wonder what truck safety issues I’m talking about. So here’s the short version of the story.

We had dinner along the river at sunset our last night in DC.

My dad was killed almost fourteen years ago by a tired trucker. He was stopped in traffic on a freeway in Georgia, headed to the Atlanta airport, when a semitruck, being driven by a relatively new driver hit him from behind going 65 miles per hour. He died, they say, instantly.

The driver said he had fallen asleep.

The driver was over the number of hours he should have been driving, had been driving all night. The crash happened around 6 in the morning on a straight piece of highway. Police, ambulances and firetrucks were already there, working on a previous crash. Everyone had slowed down and stopped as they worked their way around the existing crash.

The semi driver didn’t see any of that.

After dinner we went for a walk.

Once we got over our initial shock and began to learn the truth we found that the problem was much bigger than just our crash. In the fourteen years since I’ve met dozens of people who have either survived such a crash, being hit from behind by a truck driven by tired or distracted drivers, or have lost loved ones in crashes that sound exactly like my dad’s.

And that’s why I go to Washington regularly.

We talk to the staff of Representatives and Senators. We ask for legislation to fix some of the loopholes. We ask for support of legislation that is already pending that will make the roads safer for all of us in passenger cars and for the drivers of big trucks too.

A new building, made of green glass. I thought it was stunning.

We talk to agencies in the Department of Transportation; to staff and management of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, to the people at the National Transportation Safety Board, to different departments within the DOT, all of whom are responsible for different aspects of road and vehicle safety.

Sometimes we talk to truck manufacturers and trailer manufacturers. Some of them are moving forward with safety technology even though the government is all wrapped up in studying stuff and not willing to mandate safety.

We spent a long time watching this fountain as it changed colors.

This past week we had a meeting with the FMCSA Administrator. He is new this year and is facing an uphill battle to get much of anything done. What else is new in Washington, right? He said a lot of the right things, but the reality is that very little will change.

Maybe nothing will change.

I’m not sure they’re even studying much of anything now. I looked at those (mostly) men, sitting in their expensive suites and wondered how much money they made to get absolutely nothing done. They talked a lot about what they were doing and why things were hung up.

We talked a lot about how frustrating it is to work on issues for decades without seeing movement. They mostly didn’t look us in the eyes.

There were lots of pretty lights.

And while we were there we met with a few Senators and Representatives’ staffs. They aren’t doing much either, but they listened politely.

Studying our notes before meeting with Minority Leader Pelosi’s staff.

It’s not enough. I’m tired of getting symbolically patted on the head and told they’re sorry for my loss. I’m way beyond needing to make them cry. Unless it’s to cry when their boss loses their next election.

Time to vote people. Vote your heart. Vote for people who might be willing to work on the hard issues, and maybe even be willing to work with people from other political leanings.

This bridge was beautiful too in a sort of patriotic way.

It’s the only way we’re going to start making a difference.

While we were in the FMCSA meeting on Wednesday the 2017 truck related deaths and injury numbers came out. Four thousand seven hundred and sixty-one people died. That’s up 9% from 2016.

That’s staggering. And it’s why I continue to go to DC.

So now you’re up to date. Pictures were taken on our last evening in the city, using my cell phone. Not quality pics, but they do give you a glimpse of the pretty side to the city.

Working hard to save lives.


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On a mission in St. Paul Minnesota

Some of you know that last week my husband and I were in Minnesota. But maybe you don’t know why, so let me introduce you. This is Katie Burkey.

Katie’s photo courtesy of her mom Karen.

She was 22 when she was driving home from work, stopped in rush hour traffic, and hit from behind be a semi truck that didn’t notice all that traffic. That happened on September 6, 2017.

Her family and friends were and continue to be devastated. Such a beautiful life, so much potential, with a unstoppable future. Gone.

So on the first anniversary Katie’s mom said she could either sit at home and be sad and angry or she could try to do something productive. She chose productivity and Katie’s friends and family rallied on the state capital steps, looking for press coverage to not only bring attention to this kind of truck crash, but to push for more things.

Lots of people stood up for Katie.

One, there’s a bill in the Minnesota legislature to ban the use of cell phones while driving. Though they don’t know exactly what the driver of the truck was doing at the time of the crash, they presume he was distracted. The bill needs to be voted on and it needs to pass.

I did a short interview.

Two, the driver of the truck that killed Katie has never been charged with anything. At all. In over a year.

The Prosecutor has refused to press charges, even though the police who worked the crash presented the information to him and feel he should be charged. The Prosecutor says the crash doesn’t fit the definition of ‘gross’ negligence. He stands firm that gross negligence would have to include the driver being under the influence, or he left the scene. Neither of those were true. So he’s passed the case on to the city attorney who hasn’t moved on it.

Understandably the family wants the driver charged. Katie is dead and so far the driver hasn’t been held accountable for anything. They hope all the television the rally got will get the city attorney’s attention. I hope so.

The family asked if anyone at the Truck Safety Coalition could attend and speak. That’s why we were there and I felt humbled to have been asked. There were several other families that spoke about their lost loved ones, each story heartbreaking.

I was glad to meet Katie’s mom and aunt, grandparents, and friends. But I’m so sad that I met them in this context. I’m sending hugs to them all.

I wish I could do more.

Protesting lack of accountability,


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Truck Safety – the details

It’s a very busy place, Washington DC.


It all started when my dad was killed by a tired semi-truck driver who fell asleep at the wheel and didn’t see the traffic stopped ahead of him early in the morning of December 23, 2004.

Since them members of my family have been traveling to Washington DC regularly to tell our story and lobby for safety on our nation’s roads. This past week my husband and I were there again, talking to the staff of House Representatives and Senators, as well as people at the DOT, about the bigger, heavier, longer trucks that are once again being proposed by some in the trucking industry.

Riding the metro to the Hill on a beautiful day.

Back in 2015 double 33 foot trailers were proposed by the trucking industry, they say because of a driver shortage. What they didn’t say is that adding 5 feet on each of two trailers, hauled in tandem, made the entire truck 83 feet, 8 inches long. That’s similar to an 8 story building. Try passing that on a busy freeway.

We worked long hours and got back to the hotel after dark most nights.

They also don’t tell you that it will take longer to stop, that the back trailer doesn’t track correctly going around corners and that they’re harder to drive, requiring a special endorsement on a driver’s commercial license.

In one of the lady’s rooms, mid century modern makeup chairs.

There’s already a shortage of drivers, finding experienced drivers to haul double 33 foot trailers isn’t going to be easy.

Mountain sculpture in the Hart Senate Building lobby.

Aside from the safety issues, many companies ship their goods ‘intermodal’ meaning they move over land on rails as well as highways, and across the ocean on ships. The 33 foot trailers won’t fit on rail cars as they are configured now, and container ships may have to change the way the trailers are stacked as well. Some people fear that smaller transport companies will be forced out of business as shippers and brokers move to the more competitive larger trailers to ship their goods, regardless of the level of safety attributed to these trailers.

Waiting for a shuttle I thought the metro lines above were interesting.

There’s an appropriations bill in the House of Representatives right now. It’s the kind of bill that ‘must pass’ because it funds most of the Federally mandated programs across the country. Some members of Congress have added amendments to the bill that we consider anti truck safety. Allowing for a study of the double 33 foot trailers is one of these amendments.

It wasn’t all work. We ate dinner down on the wharf near an old torpedo factory that has been turned into an artist loft.

You might think that we shouldn’t be afraid of studying something, and normally I’d agree. But there isn’t much data out there on double 33s, they are running on some roads of certain states, but not many. We’re concerned that the trucking industry will fund studies of their own, and of course those will be favorable.

Right now the amendment is still in the appropriations bill. An amendment offered by another Representative to strip it from the bill failed by a few votes. So we have work to do.

We walked up and down a lot of stairs.

And this is just one issue. There are so many more that I want to tell you about. We worked all week on the Hill, talking about speed limiters, hours of service, underride crashes and the bill sitting in Congress right now, Stop Underride, that needs to move out of committee.

One afternoon we even got to take some time off and visit the national zoo!

We walked between appointments, from the House side to the Senate side of the Hill and back again, in the hot, humid air of summer in DC. It was hard. But getting the call about Dad was harder and I reminded myself how important this all is.

And yes we got lucky and saw the famous pandas.

I know truck safety is not everyone’s thing. And I know some of you will have differing opinions on how to solve the problem of truck crashes on our highways. I have so much more to tell you, and to show you, about our trip to DC last week. But this is already too long, too boring, and just a little stressful.

We had one peaceful evening on the Mall.

So I put a few photos in for relief — just in case you’d rather just look at cool stuff. I’m OK with that too.

Studying before an appointment.

I’ll tell you more about our work in another post. Stay tuned.

The flight home was thankfully incident free.


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Retirement interruption

I interrupt this retirement to go back to work in DC, trying to be a catalysis for change, trying to get people with power to stop and listen, to open their minds to the possibility of doing something a different way.

To open their minds to the fact that they have the power to save lives.

It’s no easy task.

It’s only Wednesday and I’m already exhausted.

Stay tuned.


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All I want for Christmas – ELDs

Dad and his camper parked among commercial trucks ten years before he was killed.


My dad was killed by a tired commercial truck driver early on the morning of December 23, 2004. Dad was driving to the Atlanta airport to catch a flight north for Christmas. The driver of the semi, who didn’t see all the lanes of traffic stopped up ahead of him, had been driving all night in an attempt to get a shipment of electronics to an Atlanta retailer in time for Christmas sales.

Back in those days commercial drivers recorded the hours they drove in paper logs; safety advocates sometimes called these logs comic books because of the amount of made up information that got recorded. Truck drivers are paid by the mile, not by the hour, so it benefited them financially to drive further and faster, maybe even further and faster than was legal.

So after dad was killed, and I began to learn more about what happened, I began to work toward mandated electronic logging devices, ELDs. Last Monday, December 18, 2017, thirteen years after dad died, my wish came true. Trucks are now required to have electronic logging devices, and though some truckers are still opposed to what they consider is a infringement on their right to privacy, or their right to make a living, and though I’m sure there will be some unintended consequences, I’m happy.

As far as I’m concerned this was a very big, very important, Christmas present to the families of people killed and injured by tired truckers across the country. And, if they’re honest, perhaps it’s a gift to the drivers too, because it will be harder for an employer to push a driver past legal limits now that everything is monitored by ELDs.

ELDs might have happened without the Truck Safety Coalition and our volunteers pushing legislators for years. The American Trucking Association (ATA) which represents big truck companies wanted them too, so for once we were on the same side of an argument. But I have to think it was stories of regular people like us that helped tip the balance and get this technology mandated. So to all of you out there that have supported our work, for this gift of safety that begins this holiday season, I say thank you.

I think I’ll consider the ELD mandate as a personal Christmas present sent straight from dad.