Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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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things that have been left hanging at the DOT since the beginning of the year, other things in the works that have been repealed by the current Administration.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.


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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.


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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.


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There will be tears

Today was day one; the first official day of the Truck Safety Coalition’s Sorrow to Strength Conference, held this year in Alexandria Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington DC.

Alexandria is beautiful. Yesterday evening my husband and I walked a few blocks of the historic shopping district, me trying not to trip as my bifocal glasses distorted the already bumpy brick paved sidewalks.

I watched the families, decked out in shorts and flip flops eating ice cream and laughing. I wished we were here on a vacation.

Pretty row houses.

Instead I spent a sleepless night going over my opening remarks, worrying about people’s arrival times, how to coordinate lunch, whether or not this person was going to get along with that person. Turns out I worried needlessly, as is often the case with me. Still, I can’t seem to help it.

Day one went really well, if you can call listening to story after story of horrific truck crashes, death and injury while wiping tears from our eyes going well. This year we have at least four new families, most of their losses are within the past 18 months. It was hard for them, extraordinarily hard, to stand up and tell us about the crash, and then later in the day tell us something special that they miss about their lost loved one, or about the loss in their own life if they were a survivor.

Pretty hotel.

It takes courage for families to show up at a conference like this, let alone speak aloud of unspeakable tragedy.

But I know that once they get that story out there, shared among other families who have suffered similar pain, they will begin to feel a tiny bit better. There’s no greater group of people to share their tragedy with than the families here. And tomorrow will be a bit easier as we’re focused less on our loss and more on getting change done. We’ll be learning about talking to politicians and media and agencies.

We’ll be gathering our strength for the fight.

During one of our sessions today a long time volunteer told the new families not to worry about understanding everything. “We’ve got your back,” she said. And she’s right. We’ve got these new families in our hearts and in our memories and even after we head home next week they will still be with us. We’ve got their backs and always will, And in two years when they come back to the conference, they’ll be in a position to help the next wave of new families.

Feels like a summer night.

Because there will be new families here at the next conference, and our hearts will break all over again to see their fresh and raw grief. But we’ll have their backs and the backs of the families after that and the ones that come after that.

We have to make at least some of this stop.

As one volunteer said today, speaking to us all, “Make your voice heard. Make sure they hear you in your meetings. Show your emotion, let them see your grief. They owe you that much. Make them hear.” We’ll be on the Hill Monday through Wednesday. I hope you can hear our voices all the way out where you all live. We’re going to be making a mighty sound.

And there are going to be tears.

Shared by another Truck Safety Volunteer on Facebook tonight:

“Tears are how our heart speaks when our lips can not describe how much we’ve been hurt.”

I felt you with me all day long Dad.

Younger dad.


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Why I go to Washington

I’m packing my bag, getting ready to go to Washington DC for the Sorrow to Strength conference. I’ll be with other families who have lost loved ones to preventable truck crashes and some people who have survived such crashes themselves. It’s five days that we look forward to and dread all at the same time.

It hurts.

Still, if you ask any individual attending, they will tell you straight away that the reason they work to make our roads safer is because they don’t want another family going through the pain and grief they’ve been through. They don’t want another family suffering because of something that is so preventable.

Tonight I’m listening to the 10:00 p.m. news as I zip the suitcase shut. The television is on just for background noise, I’m not paying much attention, more interested in making sure I don’t forget to take something important.

And then I hear the words ‘semi’ and ‘fatal’ and ‘construction zone.’

And I reel around and stand still as the story unfolds. You can read about it here.

There is construction on a stretch of freeway that I travel regularly. Today cars were slowed to merge into the construction zone. A semi lost control and rear ended the cars ahead. Two men are dead. A woman was airlifted in critical condition to a hospital. Doubtless there are other injuries, certainly other people who were terrified.

It’s early yet, and we don’t know the entire story. But regardless of the details the truth is that tonight there are new families facing a long journey through loss and injury. Their worlds have just imploded. A semi running into the back of cars slowing for construction is the definition of a preventable crash. I hope that we can connect with these families when they are ready. Meanwhile, I’ll travel to DC and try to be heard.

Because this is why I go to Washington.


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Storms brewing ahead


Today I took the dog for a walk at a local park. The clouds were heavy, dark, and hanging low over the fields and ponds. I felt melancholy and I wondered why.

And then I remembered.

The time is coming for me to attend another Sorrow to Strength Conference in Washington DC. The Truck Safety Coalition hosts the conference every two years; I’ve been to six of them since dad was killed by a sleepy semi driver in 2004.

The conference is a time for families to join others, all of whom have been damaged by preventable truck crashes, to share their stories, gain support, and learn about truck safety issues. Some families are struggling with permanent injuries, others are grieving the loss of loved ones. And some are trying to deal with both injury and loss.

It’s almost too much to fathom, all those people in one room.

But it’s a good thing too, because you won’t meet a better group of people to support a family in the throes of grief. These are people that know how it feels to get that call or to sit next to a hospital bed knowing that life will never be the same, but hoping for at least a semblance of normalcy sometime in the future.

It’s a difficult conference to attend, but it’s called Sorrow to Strength for a reason. We begin filled with sorrow, and leave, after several days, stronger for having been together. We’ll be talking to Congressional members, agency employees, and the media about truck safety issues. The current political environment in DC is not particularly conducive to regulation these days. But we aren’t giving up finding compromises that make our roads safer for everyone.

Everyone has trepidation as they head to DC for this conference. Attending dredges up all the old memories and emotions. Even after almost thirteen years I still get anxious thinking about the crash, anticipating the questions, planning for the meetings.

But then I think about dad. And so many others that I’ve come to know over the years. There will be new families attending this year, there always are. They are stark reminders that every year, every month, every day that goes by without solutions more people are being injured and killed. This is no time to let politics get in our way.

Wish us luck.


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“Democracy isn’t a spectator sport.”

I’ve had a good winter off, playing on the beach, watching light move across water, sleeping in, napping mid-afternoon. But it’s time to get back to work.

Work!??? You’re right; I’m retired. So what work am I talking about?

There are many of you new here at Change is Hard. You probably haven’t heard me talk about trucks and safety and my family’s story. You probably think my life is all about photography and travel and a special little dog. And sometimes it is.

“You can turn grief into action.”

But sometimes it’s about grief and loss and preventable crashes. And honoring the memory of my dad who was killed in December of 2004 by a tired semi driver who fell asleep at the wheel while going 65 miles per hour on a freeway in the early morning hours. A driver who failed to see the lights of emergency vehicles up ahead, the people working to clear a minor crash that had occurred earlier. A driver that didn’t notice the traffic stopped in front of him. Didn’t see my dad in his little red car until it was too late.

My dad was a guy who lived by safe rules. He had retired ten years earlier from a career managing chemical plants, inherently dangerous places. He made us all wear our life jackets in the boat when we were kids. He drove with us around and around the neighborhood when he taught us how to drive a stick shift car, until he was satisfied we could operate it safely. He helped my sister build her house in Tennessee, complete with extra roof brackets to hold the roof down in a tornado. Just in case. He carried an emergency contact list in his wallet, listing the four kids and spouses with work and home phone numbers. That’s how they knew where to find us after the crash.

“Hope in the face of difficulty.”

So after we got through the initial days filled with disbelief and unbearable grief, when we were moving into sad confusion buffeted by unrelenting grief, we began to ask questions. How did the driver not see all that traffic ahead? Not see all the emergency lights? The road was straight. The sight lines clear. We searched the internet looking for anything about truck crashes.

And we found the Truck Safety Coalition.

It’s an organization made up of the families of people who have been killed or injured in preventable truck crashes. It provides support to families and it works to change the way things are done in the trucking industry. Sometimes that means working to change regulations and laws. Sometimes that means working to change perceptions among people that drive trucks. Sometimes it’s about educating people that drive cars. Sometimes it means meeting with legislators and staff, or truck company executives, or members of other safety groups. Always it means honoring the memories of those we’ve lost, honoring the lives that have been changed forever of those who were injured.

It means trying to save lives

Every other year the families meet in Washington DC for a few days. We tell our stories, we sadly welcome the new families — those whose losses are recent, we talk about issues, resolutions, how to make a difference. And we go to the Hill and talk to everyone we can. Legislators, Regulators, the Press. Everyone. Sometimes they call us the ‘crazy truck people.’ That’s OK with us. Whatever gives attention to our issues.

“Even when you’re 100% right getting things done requires compromise.”

The conference is coming up next month. I can feel the tension escalating among my Truck Safety “family” already. Facebook is abuzz with truck issues. People are becoming stressed. Or depressed. Or hopeful. Or everything all rolled into one. Attending the conference brings it all back again for us. Yet it’s hard to stay away. “It’s like attending the funeral all over again.” says one mother who has been fighting for truck safety for more than twenty-five years.

The title of this post, and the quotes interspersed throughout, are from former President Obama’s July 2016 speech. I wrote a few things he said down on a random piece of paper way back then and that paper has found it’s way back to me this week. As I gear up for a difficult few days in Washington I thought they were appropriate. Hopeful. Democrat, Republican or Independent, the world would be a better place if we could learn to compromise. I’m hoping we find a bit of that during our conference this year.

It’s probably the most I can expect.