Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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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.


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Reboot

We’ve been home one whole day, moving swiftly into day two and I’m trying to get my bearings. Cupboard doors swing the opposite way of those at the lake house, the dishwasher stacks differently, I turn the wrong way headed to the laundry. I forget what I’m doing in the middle of doing it. I think part of me is still in the South; hence the random photos of our trip in this post.

Katie seems to have settled back into home life easier than me.

Neighborhood dog at the lake. Don’t know his name.

I sort through piles of paper; brochures from places we visited, lists of items to take, maps, advertisements. I come across a page, torn from a notebook, that I don’t recognize. But it’s my handwriting, obviously quotes from something I was reading. I don’t remember writing these down, I don’t know where they came from, don’t know who I was quoting.

But they seem pertinent in a general sort of way.

Beautiful tree near Jacksonville Florida.

I think this paper must have been in the car or on a table prior to the most recent pile of travel debris being deposited. I think maybe I wrote these down after the election, when I was feeling frustrated and fearful. Not that I’m less frustrated or fearful now, just more accepting of what is.

Or maybe not.

Beautiful birds at the Jacksonville Zoo.

Regardless the quotes will serve me well when I write my next post about an upcoming trip to Washington. Yes, the truck lady will emerge once more as there is work to be done, lives to be saved, families to comfort.

Playing with my girl on the beach.

The work doesn’t end just because a person takes a break. Nothing is resolved and everything is still important. The strategy may have to be adjusted, tweaked, but the end goal is still saving lives. It’s even more important now that the trucking industry has the Persident’s ear.

Stay tuned.

Another favorite lake.


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Giving Tuesday

Dad at my wedding in 1990

Dad at my wedding in 1990

Today is Giving Tuesday, a day to remind people to donate to charitable organizations. I’d like to plead the case for donating to the Truck Safety Coalition.

Many of you already know this organization because of all my posts about Dad who was killed by a tired trucker December 23, 2004. We’re coming up on the anniversary again, and though it’s twelve years now, it seems like yesterday that my family’s world was turned upside down.

Back then we weren’t sure what had happened to us, or why, but we knew it wasn’t right. And the more we learned, about the long hours truck drivers work, the conditions they work under, the more we realized it was something we wanted to help fix.

Just like Dad always fixed stuff for us.

TSC is the only organization singularly devoted to supporting victims of truck crashes as well as the families and friends who have lost a loved one in a truck crash. I encourage you to go to their website to learn more about all the supportive programs and advocacy in which the Truck Safety Coalition is involved.

Please donate to TSC this Giving Tuesday by clicking here (http://trucksafety.org/get-involved/donate/) to help make a difference in the lives of people dealing with tragic crashes and to help save lives by improving highway safety for everyone, including those driving commercial trucks.

If you were to talk to any of the families volunteering for TSC they’d tell you that they work for safety to honor their loved ones and to keep other families from suffering the same tragedy they cope with every day.

Please join us as we stand for safety.

And thank you very much for all the emotional support you’ve provided my own family over the years. We couldn’t have made it through without all of you.

Grew up to be my Dad.

Grew up to be my Dad.


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Cee’s Black and White Photo Challenge: Something with a motor

I was driving through our tiny town, taking my dog Katie to her park for a walk when I noticed an early 1960’s Chevrolet Greenbrier van.

A beautiful working truck.

A beautiful working truck.

I had to turn around and go back to take a few pictures.

Such simple details.

Such simple details.

The owner came out and we talked a bit. He says it runs great.

Classic.

Classic.

I thanked him for letting me take pictures. It was beautiful and I thought it was perfect for Cee’s challenge.