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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Guest Blogger on Life and Death

Dawn King regularly writes her own blog, on topics ranging from her dog Katie to interstate highway truck safety. As this year’s first guest blogger on Books in Northport, she is allowing me to repost something she wrote shortly before Christmas. No further introduction should be necessary: everything is explained below:
You may have heard that the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration, part of the Department of Transportation) issued a new rule this week on the hours that a pilot is allowed to work before having to rest.  They lowered the number of hours by one and made some other changes.  It’s not enough, letting them fly one hour less, but it’s a start.  This change was prompted by the crash more than a year ago of a commuter plane in New York state, where the pilots had been flying long hours and were fatigued.
Well, what you probably haven’t heard is that the FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier SAFETY Administration) also a part of the DOT (Department of Transportation) just issued a new rule regarding the hours of service (HOS) for truck drivers.    We’ve been working for over a year with them, hoping to get the 11 consecutive hours they’re allowed to drive reduced to 10.  Even 10 is too many; most of us work a 40 hour week and we’re exhausted.  Drivers can (under this new rule) drive 70 hours a week,  30 hours over a normal work week.
The ‘new’ HOS rule was issued late today.  Though they made some changes geared toward safety – they reduced the total number of driving hours per week from 82 to 70, they mandate that drivers get some sleep overnight – they left the 11 hours of consecutive driving in the rule.  This is the most dangerous part of the rule, and the part we worked very hard to get reduced.
Tonight I wrote a letter to Anne Ferro, the Administrator of the FMSCA, the woman I’ve met with on several occasions, to express my displeasure.  I’m sharing it with you now:
Dear Anne,
With tears in my eyes and a tremendous ache in my heart  I read tonight, on the eve of the 7th  anniversary of my father’s death at the hands of a fatigued semi driver, the new HOS rule.  You and I have met.  You’ve looked at Dad’s photo, the picture of the car, heard his story. You listened when I spoke about how he fixed dangerous things, nodded in agreement when I said that fatigued driving could be fixed.  You hugged me and said you knew your work wasn’t fast enough for me.  I thought you recognized the opportunity you had to make a difference, to save lives, to put safety ahead of commercial profit.
But you left the most dangerous part of the HOS rule intact.  You are continuing to allow drivers to drive eleven hours in a row.  Your own agency studies indicate that driving eleven hours contributes to fatigue related crashes.  Your own surveys tell you that drivers report driving fatigued, report falling asleep while driving.  Your own research tells you the truth.  Yet you allowed pressure from wealthy and profit oriented organizations to convince you that profit is more important than the public’s safety.  Ensuring safety on our roads is your number one job.  Safety is your number one responsibility.
In the same week that the FAA responded to the problem of fatigued airline pilots and lowered the number of hours pilots can work before they must rest, you ignored the fact that fatigued truck drivers are just as dangerous.  If even 1% of last year’s 3,675 semi related deaths were caused by fatigued semi drivers, the 367 people killed should cause national outrage.  An agency such as the FMCSA should sit up and take notice.   Two people died last year in fatigue related airline crashes and the FAA responded.  Critics of the FAA ruling say it didn’t go far enough, and I agree, but at least they are moving in the right direction.
How many more people have to die before our government recognizes that profits can not come before the safety of the innocent public?  Don’t you think that we’d all be willing to pay a few more dollars for that microwave it we knew that we could save lives by getting it to the store just a bit later?  Under this ‘new’ rule people will continue to die because of fatigued truck drivers.  Regardless of the once a week restart rule and the mandated overnight sleep, the fact is that driving eleven hours is fatiguing.  So more people die, more families get that call, more lives are shattered.  Profit wins,  but the public pays the price.  It’s just so wrong.
Dad was killed seven years ago tomorrow.  I promised him that I’d make a difference and I’m not giving up.  But I have to say that tonight I feel more than a little discouraged.  You and I sat in a meeting, with other family members who have suffered terrible loss, and I told you then that of all of us in that room, you were the only one with the power to make our roads safer.  I don’t think you understood what a grave responsibility you had.
You were our best hope for change.  And tonight I feel saddened, betrayed, confused and angry.
-Dawn King
So.  Tomorrow is the 7th anniversary of Dad’s death.  What has really changed in the world of truck safety?  I’m working now with two families that have suffered loss this past year.  They’re going through the initial stages of pain and outrage and fear and confusion and grief that we went through.  They want it fixed.  So did we.  So DO we.  It’s just so hard, sometimes, in the face of such overwhelming opposition, to keep fighting the fight.
But we can’t let them win.  Because if we do we all lose.  Every last one of us.  So tomorrow, on a day when Dad will be on my mind even more than usual I will begin the fight again.  We’re not going away.  One step forward, two steps back doesn’t mean we won’t prevail.  They want us to be quiet and go away.
Not going to happen.

It is little enough I can do by reposting Dawn’s letter and commentary here. I ask anyone who reads this post to send a link to friends and family. Let’s see if we can help Dawn and her cause. We’ll be helping ourselves and everyone in the country if we can make our roads safer in this new year. Thank you, Dawn.


BB-Idaho said...

She is right. I have written to the
trucking industry itself on two occasions, several years back, I
pulled off a minor highway in Minnesota because of pea soup fog.
Semi-trucks kept coming by at 70 mph and one ran over a family of
little boys waiting for the school bus. Two years ago, in crossing
the Wyoming interstate, we ran into a blizzard; whiteout, a foot of snow with ice beneath. I went
across an overpass sideways and
a semi truck zipped by at the usual
70 mph. I got off at the nearest
exit (which in Wyoming isn't all that near) and stayed two nights.
The reply from the trucking industry was "did you get their
truck number?" ..most companies
will blame the operator, not their
system. Trucks are very heavy,
the drivers battling delivery time and it can be a dangerous situation. Trailing units continue to get longer and heavier. Small wonder more long haul tonnage is going by piggyback train-cheaper and safer. (I always preface my
complaint letters with 'I'm so old
I can remember when these fellows
were called knights of the road..)

Dawn said...

Dear BB - thank you for your support. Yes I remember when we used to count on truck drivers to be helpful on the road. But most of them are being paid by the mile now, and they don't make any money unless they travel those miles. The faster, the longer, the more money they make. That's another issue we're working on.

Right now our concentration is on getting Electronic On Board Recorders (EOBRs) on all commercial trucks to enforce whatever the number of hours they're allowed to drive; we're working on getting the SHIPPA law passed (keeping size and weight laws where they are and not allowing bigger, heavier trucks on the roads)...and of course we're still working to get the hours of service reduced. There are other issues as well.

You can learn more about us at the Truck Safety Coalition website:

By the end of the day tomorrow I'll post on my blog - the senate bill we're supporting that will address several of these items.

I appreciate all the support I've been given by my readers, and especially PJ's support by sending my message out through her own blog.

P. J. Grath said...

Thank you, Dawn, for additional information. Thank you, BB, for commenting. It's probably a little far afield, but it occurs to me to wonder if our American demand for immediate gratification might not be a factor in this problem. Can't we just slow down and wait a couple of days more for delivery?

P. J. Grath said...

Here is the link to Dawn's latest post on the subject:

In it she gives the number of the new Senate bill and why it's important so we can all write effective letters urging it to be passed.

Dawn said...

Thanks PJ

Kathy said...

I read this the other day, but neglected to comment. It's wonderful that you allowed Dawn to share in your space, Pamela. This is an important issue. Hopefully people will listen and changes will be made.

books said...
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