Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.