Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


16 Comments

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.


10 Comments

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.


20 Comments

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.


1 Comment

Thank you

Thank you for all the kind comments, here on the blog, on Facebook and in my email, supporting my effort to raise funds for the Truck Safety Coalition. We really are facing a difficult 2018, in many different ways. But it helps a whole lot to know there are so many caring people standing behind our work.

You won’t know, just as we’ll never know, how many lives are saved because of the work of the Truck Safety Coalition. But I can assure you that every dollar you send us goes to fight the good fight. And somebody, somewhere, will never know they escaped a tragic crash because the truck had a mandated electronic log, or sported a stronger rear guard, or even had a side guard. Maybe the driver wasn’t tired because she was following the hours of service rule. Maybe someday higher minimum liability insurance will cause insurance companies to monitor truck companies and charge higher premiums to those that don’t follow safety standards. Maybe your dollar will help us convince shippers to only use safe carriers. These are all issues we’re working on, issues we wouldn’t be able to tackle without your support.

So thank you again for your support, both financial and emotional. They’re both important as we all travel the roads together in 2018.


4 Comments

Washington in review

It was unexpected and unplanned, but our trip to Washington DC was important. I meant to write on Tuesday evening, after we watched the morning confirmation hearing on the nominated Administrator to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). But after the hearing we spent the afternoon in meetings with ours and other Senators offices and by the time we limped back to the hotel I was too tired to write.

And I meant to write about our experiences on Wednesday evening, and on Thursday night after our appointments on the Hill but each evening turned into a night of note writing from the day’s work and preparation for the day ahead. No time to write about the experience for you.

And now here it is Sunday night and the passion I felt during the week is ebbing and though I’m not as tired as I was, I somehow feel reluctant to try to capture it all, to put it down, because I don’t think I can make you understand just what it all means.

But I’ll try.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is a part of the Department of Transportation (DOT). It issues and enforces regulations that rule the way trucks move across the country. They set the hours that can be driven, monitor safety issues like sleep and the mechanics of the vehicles, and handle many other things. They are very important to our work at the Truck Safety Coalition.

After almost a year of this Administration an Administrator for the FMCSA has finally been nominated. We at the TSC wanted to hear what he had to say, so we attended the confirmation hearing. Mr. Martinez said a lot of the right things. He comes from New Jersey, heading their Department of Motor Vehicles. He doesn’t know anything about trucks, but he seems to be committed to safety. So I’m willing to give him a chance to show us with actions.

After the hearing my husband and I, along with a staff member of TSC, met with the transportation staff at each of my Senators’ offices. We talked about things that have been left hanging at the DOT since the beginning of the year, other things in the works that have been repealed by the current Administration.

The rest of the week was spent in a similar fashion, going from meeting to meeting in either Senate or House offices, looking for support of our safety causes. We talked about the successful side underride crash tests. We are looking for support of legislation to make underride guards mandated. And we found people that are interested in the developments. It’s progress.

At each meeting I pull out the picture of my dad, Bill, and the picture of what his car looked like after his crash. I look into dad’s eyes and silently promise him that we won’t give up. We won’t give up even though I’ve been making these trips to Washington D.C. for thirteen years. Sometimes multiple times a year. In one of our last meetings of this week I told the staffer that my dad comes with me on every trip to D.C. The staffer looked confused but dad and I smiled at each other.

My husband and I ate dinner one evening in the lower level of Union Station, near the Capital. Tired, and standing just outside the diner sliding out of my dress shoes and into my running shoes, feet aching, I noticed some signs just above the counter where people were enjoying their dinner.

“Excellent food.” ” Bill eats here.”

Yes, why yes he did. Because he’s always with me when I’m in D.C. And everywhere else too. We made some progress during this past week. We talked to lots of people, even some that are usually on the other side of our arguments. There’s interest in saving lives on both sides of the aisle.

Stay tuned. I’ll keep you apprised of developments. There may come a time when I’ll need you to call your Representative and/or Senator and ask for their support on proposed legislation. Meanwhile we’ll keep fighting the fight, talking about safety and trucks and our roads to everyone that will listen.

Dad was always all about safety. He still is. I guess I am too.


10 Comments

This didn’t have to happen

It’s happening regularly across our country. Over and over, it seems daily, I read the stories. This one happened yesterday, and not so far from me.

Look at the photos; the SUV is wedged entirely under the trailer of the semi truck. It was a dark and rainy morning, the SUV was traveling on the divided highway when the semi pulled out in order to make a turn.

The SUV driver is dead but he might have had a chance if the truck had side guards installed on the trailer. Most industrialized countries around the world have these safety devices on their trucks.

Our country doesn’t, because the trucking industry protests the weight that would be added to the truck. They say the guards will cost them money – by making those loads that are already at maximum weight be reduced. They say the guards will mean more trucks are on the road.

The truth is most trucks aren’t at the maximum weight and won’t have to decrease their load. The truth is we could probably get the weight limit increased for the 800 pounds side guards might add. The truth is we might be able to get tax credits or other benefits for truck companies willing to help make our roads safer.

Some truck companies and trailer manufacturers are beginning to consider adding guards, not because it’s legislated, but because it’s the right thing to do. They’re willing to absorb the weight and the cost because it could save lives.

There are a lot of potential solutions, but none of them came in time for the driver of this SUV. He was 75, the same age my dad was when he was hit from behind by a semi and pushed into the semi in front of him. This man’s name is William. So was my dad’s.

It just hits so hard. Another man, probably a husband, a father, maybe a grandfather, someone’s brother, neighbor, church friend, local man about town, another man is dead.

And it didn’t have to happen.

We’re working on it but we’re slow and we’re fighting uphill. We don’t have the money that the truck industry has, and it’s harder for us to influence decision makers.

But we’re not giving up and we’re not going away.

Please, if you can, support our efforts. We’re working both with industry directly and within government to get side guards installed on trailers. You can donate to the Truck Safety Coalition via PayPal at their website. Funds donated will go toward our work to make the highways safer for all of us.

And there’s another way to help. A bill is being worked on that will require side guards, and I’ll ask you to call your Senator to ask for support. I’ll let you know when to call.

In the meantime – stay safe.


13 Comments

When a crash is not just a crash

Middle picture is without the guard, and below that, with a guard.


The purpose for our current road trip happened last Tuesday. We and other members of the Truck Safety Coalition family attended a conference to discuss car and truck crashes, specifically the situation when a car slides under the trailer of a semi truck from the side.

This is what happens when a car goes under a trailer. Imagine being in the car with your family.

That’s called a side underride and it’s usually deadly.

When you slide under a trailer your car’s safety features aren’t activated because your front bumper doesn’t hit anything. The first part of your car to come in contact with the trailer is your windshield. And then your head.

This car was driven into a trailer at 35 mpr. The trailer had a side guard.

It’s been a problem for years. Jennifer’s dad was killed when his car slid all the way under a trailer on a dark country road more than thirty years ago and she’s been fighting this and other truck safety issues ever since.

Jennifer talking about her dad’s crash and how grateful she is that side underride is being talked about today.

But in this past year a solution has been developed. And it happened because people began to talk about the issue. Last year was the first conference on underride, and there the inventor of a side guard and a manufacturer happened to meet. They’ve been collaborating ever since, and at this year’s conference we got to witness their side guard in action.

Conference members wait above the test crash area to see if the side guard works.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) hosted our meeting, and did a test crash so that we could see what would happen. (Click the ‘meeting’ link above to see the crash test yourself.) The car was driven at 40 mpr into the side of a trailer with a side guard, named Angel Wing, installed behind the wind flow shield.

Waiting in anticipation.

The car did not slide under the trailer. Though the trailer itself was moved several inches, the passenger compartment of the car was not penetrated.

Tears and applause.

The driver of this vehicle probably would have had a wrist injury, probably a headache, and bruises from the seat belt, but would have walked away.

This driver would have walked away.

Members of our truck safety family, there to witness this test, cried softly after. Unspoken was the knowledge that if something like this had been installed on trucks years ago they wouldn’t have been in Virginia this week, standing up on a platform, watching hope unfold.

Hope.

We have hope that someday, maybe sooner than we imagine, you’ll see Angel Wings, or some iteration of it, moving down the highway near you. We have hope that someday, hopefully sooner rather than later, a family will only have to deal with bumps and bruises, and not a funeral.

Side guards will save lives.

Someday soon the results of lots of peoples dreams will come to fruition. And it will happen because people from all walks of life sat down and talked. Trailer manufacturers, truck companies, safety experts, devastated families, government officials.

Two grief stricken mothers, working together to save other lives.

Everyone has a different viewpoint, but together an answer can be found. Truck crashes happen to all sorts of people and it takes all sorts of people to find a way to fix the problem.

All families matter.

Someday another mother will be holding her child, alive and safe. She might not know who to thank. But I, and now you, do.

Stay tuned. And stay safe.

Be vigilant. And please support our efforts.


10 Comments

Safety and Sideguards

James Mooney never saw the semi truck backing across the country road in front of him that dark September night in 1983. He hit the side of the trailer and slid under it and out the other side, dying instantly. His daughter, Jennifer Tierney, has worked tirelessly on safety issues in the trucking industry ever since.

Thirty-four years and counting.

Over the years Jennifer has worked on many issues, hours of service, minimum insurance, electronic logging devices, and more. None of these were directly related to her father’s death, but they were the issues that had a chance of getting implemented. So she worked, along with many other volunteers, for the benefit of us all.

And now she has the chance to see progress on the issue most dear to her heart – side guards for semi trucks.

For years she and other Truck Safety Coalition volunteers have been asking for them, for years we’ve been met with blank stares and promises to ‘look into it’ by agencies and Congressional staff alike. But each time we brought it up we introduced the idea and over the years there began to be some interest.

Meanwhile every year more people have died or been injured in similar crashes.

It’s a hard way to effect change, working through the halls of Washington. Sometimes it takes a tragedy to make your point, and unfortunately that happened earlier this month. Four men, in two cars, slid under a jackknifed semi on a dark road this past July 5th. All four died at the scene.

The crash caught the attention of New York Senator Chuck Schumer. We were in his office just days before talking about these very issues. He has now come out and voiced what we’ve been saying for years, that trucks need side, rear, and possibly front guards. That regardless of whose fault the crash is, side guards can save lives, might have save these four men’s lives.

Our hearts go out to the families of these most recent victims. We want them to know we won’t forget their family members, that we will continue the fight to improve safety. We do it in their honor, and in honor of the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people who have died or been injured in underride crashes.

Thank you Senator Schumer for supporting our position. Now please help us move our bill requiring guards forward through Congress. We know it’s an uphill fight but we aren’t going to stop pushing.

All those lost and injured family members demand it of us.


11 Comments

Safety first

Safety is no accident!

Those of us working for truck safety appreciated all your support and kind words as we worked together to increase the safety on our roads. It’s been a tough few days for us as we gathered with determination to make a difference, many still raw from recent loss.

But it was amazing too.

I saw people with grief fresh on Saturday, sobbing through the initial telling of their stories, grow to tell those same stories calmly and firmly at the press conference on Tuesday. Friendships were forged that will last forever. People know they are not alone and progress is being made

Working the halls of Congress.

One of the most exciting things I saw during the conference was a short video clip of a side underride guard being tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In the first clip a mid-sized car was sent into the side of a semi trailer at 35 miles per hour, the standard speed the IIHS uses in test crashes. Without a side guard the car slides right under the trailer, the car’s safety features useless because the front of the vehicle doesn’t collide with anything. Air bags don’t deploy, the test dummy heads strike the side of the trailer. Death is probable.

In the second clip a side guard has been attached to a semi trailer, and the car sent speeding toward the trailer. The front of the vehicle crashes into the side guard, crumpling as it is designed to do. The passenger compartment is protected, in fact after the crash the driver door still opens and the occupants would have been minimally injured.

The passenger would survive!

Success!

Side and rear underride is a major safety issue, and one that The Truck Safety Coalition is focusing on this year. For many of our families it’s proof that finally someone is listening. So many of their loved ones died by sliding under a truck and finally we are making progress to stop that from happening in the future. The guard we saw is affordable, relatively light, and easy to install. And future iterations will be even lighter and more affordable. We believe that soon you’ll see them on the trucks driving near you on our nation’s roads.

I’m proud to be a part of this year’s Sorrow to Strength conference, proud to walk the halls of Congress, meet Members, talk to staff, support safety. Regardless of the political climate there is good work that will be done, good people to work with, good ideas that will be supported.

It wasn’t easy. My feet are tired and so is my head but my heart remains strong and my vision is clear. The roads are safer because of people like us, groups with no agenda other than safety. It takes work. But we’ll work on it forever.

Because safety is no accident.

Spreading the news.