Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.

Turning tragedy into movement

18 Comments

I’ve been mulling over the Tracy Morgan limo/semi crash, deciding what if anything to say.  In case you’ve missed it a Wallmart semi driver probably dozed off before he ran into the back of comedian Tracy Morgan’s limo, killing Morgan’s friend Jimmy McNair, 62, and critically injuring Morgan, Jeffrey Millea, 36 and Ardie Fuqua, 43.  You know Tracy Morgan from Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock.   Because Morgan is a celebrity the news media is beginning to ask the questions we’ve begged them to investigate for years:  How does a semi driver not see traffic slowing in front of the truck?  And ironically the crash came just days after the Senate passed an amendment to a big bill that would roll back some of the truck safety rules we’ve spent years getting made into law.

Let me explain.

Last summer, after years of study the Department of Transportation (DOT) came out with a rule that limited a truck driver’s work day to 14 hours, with only 11 of those hours actually driving.  They took the work week down from 82 hours allowed to 70 hours in a 8 day work week, or 60 hours over a 7 days work period.  Once a driver reaches those numbers he or she has to take a 34 consecutive hours off before starting a new one-week work period.  That 34 hours has to include two overnight rest periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., back to back.   This is called a ‘restart.’   And this is what the American Trucking Association (ATA) is fighting to get rolled back.

One television news reporter I saw wanted to make clear that the ATA only wanted this restart portion of the new rules withdrawn…they were fine with the 11 hours of driving  a day.  Well of course they are fine with the 11 hours, that didn’t change in the new rule.  Years ago it used to be 10 hours of driving allowed in a day, but the Bush administration raised it to 11 hours.  We at Truck Safety worked tirelessly trying to get the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to reduce the  maximum number of drivings hours back to 10, but we lost.  The FMCSA told us that their study did not show there was any reduction in crashes when reducing the maximum number of hours of driving from 11 to 10.   We thought common sense would decree that driving 10 hours was safer than driving 11, but we lost that battle.  Eventually we decided we didn’t care if the max number of hours a driver could drive was 10 or 11 as long as the FMCSA also put in place measures to ensure the enforcement of those hours.  Which to us means the mandating of Electronic Recorders.  But that’s another fight.

Back to the argument against the 34 hour restart.  The ATA says that forcing drivers to stop driving for two consecutive nights means they have to drive during the day, inferring there will be more trucks on the roads when the rest of us are driving.  But if you look at the data, the most dangerous time to be a driver in a personal vehicle prior to this rule change was the very early morning.  Statistically that’s when many semi/car crashes occur.  And when a semi and a car collide those in the car always loose.  The ATA claims that the new rules were not supported by science, but we know that there were years of study that went into the rule.  We know that because each year we were pushing for a rule to be issued and were told by the FMSCA that they were still studying the problem.  The years of study were frustrating for us, necessary for them.

The Teamsters, a union that many truck drivers belong to, supports the new restart rule and points out that two night’s rest would not prevent a driver from driving overnight the rest of the week.  Truck drivers themselves, some of whom were interviewed this week at truck stops tell stories of being pushed to drive longer hours to meet deadlines of the shippers.  They say the reason they drive such long hours is to make a decent income.  They get paid by the mile, not by the hour.  So the more they drive, the more they make.  And the more they rest the less they earn.

And there is the crux of the problem.  We can argue forever about the correct maximum number of hours a person can drive without becoming tired.  We can tweak the restart.  We can study the issue.  We can talk and cajole and cry and plead, holding pictures of our lost family members.  But as long as the drivers are paid by the mile instead of by the hour there will always be the conflict between driving more and making a living or putting safety first and earning less.  Our goal is to change the way truckers get paid, but the reality is that change is a long way off.

Meanwhile we have to work with what we have.  Right now we are trying to persuade Senators to oppose the amendment when it comes up during a full Senate vote.  And we have to work on members of the House as well, which will be even more difficult, when their version of this amendment comes up possibly as early as this week.  We need to work to get this amendment taken out of the Senate Appropriation bill.  If we don’t, years of work toward making our roads safer will be lost.

It’s sad that it takes a celebrity to make this news worthy.  NBC Nightly News Monday night did a great report, correctly citing that about 11 people a day die  and close to 100,000 people a year are injured  in crashes with semis,   You don’t hear about them because they are just individuals, not deemed important enough for national coverage.  I know my dad’s crash earned two small paragraphs on an inside page of the local paper.  Yet these people are as important to their families as Mr. Morgan is to his.  Part of me chafes at using his experience to push our agenda into the public eye.  But I also know we can’t squander this opportunity to educate people across the nation about truck safety issues.

I wish Morgan, Millea and Fuqua full recoveries.  And I hold the family of McNair in my heart.  I know that anguish and I want there to be less of it.    That’s not a pipe dream.  When we get word about the Senate and House votes we’ll be asking you to call your representatives, voice your opinion, help us move toward safer highways.

We can’t do it without all of you.  Congress doesn’t listen unless the public makes a very big noise.  We can do that together.

Thank you.

 

 

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Author: dawnkinster

I'm a long time banker having worked in banks since the age of 17. I took a break when I turned 50 and went back to school. I graduated right when the economy took a turn for the worst and after a year of library work found myself unemployed. I was lucky that my previous bank employer wanted me back. So here I am again, a long time banker. Change is hard.

18 thoughts on “Turning tragedy into movement

  1. well stated and I give you credit for addressing this. My heart goes out to everyone

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  2. I am saddened for Morgan, Millea and Fuqua and at the same tie angry too – not at them I have only deep sympathy for them – but the fact that it takes a ‘celebrity’ getting hurt for anyone to take notice in the media. How many other people were killed or hurt the same day from trucks and how many in the days since then – do they get a mention? The only way around this – is to have a monitored computer system in the trucks – that limits the driving time and can be checked each time they pass a weigh station – it is what they do in other countries

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    • I guess it’s just the way things are…in order to get attention you have to be somebody the media loves. There were probably 10 or so other people killed the same day in crashes with semi trucks. If you search online you can almost always find new articles about crashes in local papers. European countries, in fact most of the developed world handle this issue with so much more success than we do here in the States. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel, we just need to adapt what’s already out there.

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  3. And the bottom line always seems to beat out common sense and safety, doesn’t it? I think big business needs to review its priorities and practices.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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    • People are greedy. That’s been proven everywhere. For us supporting safety over profits it often feels like we are putting our finger in a dyke that is about to blow wide open and flood us all.

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  4. It always comes down to the mighty dollar, doesn’t it? Frustrating.

    I hope this tragedy helps bring about the changes that you’ve been fighting for.

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    • It’s given us an opportunity to be heard more than we’ve ever had before. Members have been interviewed on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, NPR and more. Amazing week. Everyone is exhausted and overwhelmed and weepy. But strong. We do this for our loved ones. Otherwise we’d never put ourselves through the pain over and over again.

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  5. Very informative, Dawn. So hard to make changes in law, and so many changes cry out to be made. Hats off to you for keeping up the good fight and reminding the rest of us that we need to do more than sit on the sidelines cheering you on.

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    • We need lots of cheering too PJ, we get discouraged. And of course when the time comes, probably next week, we need your calls into the House and Senate to oppose amendments to the Appropriation Bill that would roll back safety.

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  6. I was hoping you’d write about this, Dawn, and you did. Very clearly and passionately, too. Well done! My heart goes out to those injured (and their families). Why does it take something tragic for changes to be mandated??

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  7. It is a sad thing that we do usually find out about the lack of safety procedures in place until after it is evident that there is a lack due to an accident. Such a sad thing and the driver was probably doing his job as he was told. I have not read much about it so can’t say but it is definitely a sad case. Thanks for educating us .

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  8. I saw this morning where the truck driver is now saying he hadn’t been up 24 hours and that normally when there is a crash, you are given a ticket and you are on your way. If the media hadn’t gotten involved he would be on his way. This made me sick to my stomach!! Did he forget someone died because of him. That others will have months and probably years of pain to over come. Sickening!

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    • That just shows how irresponsible he is, if he thinks all that happens after a crash is a ticket. These are real people getting injured and killed. He may still be in shock, and looking for something else to blame besides himself.

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  9. Pingback: It’s good to Be | breezes at dawn

  10. Pingback: We need your help NOW. Please. For safety. | Change Is Hard

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