When we were headed from North Carolina to Texas, on May 4, 2013, and hit by a truck, not only did we lose our two youngest daughters, AnnaLeah (17) and Mary (13), but we lost the joy of celebrating fully with four of our children as they became college graduates in Texas during that month of May.
So, this past weekend, we were looking forward to a more uneventful trip to celebrate one of our sons’ graduation on December 5, 2015, from Concordia University in Austin, Texas. Unexpectedly, it really became a whole lot more.
In fact, we thoroughly enjoyed Levi’s graduation ceremony as he walked across the stage summa cum laude, along with the party afterwards at a Peruvian restaurant where we were able to spend an enjoyable afternoon with his friends.
On our way back home to North Carolina, we stopped in Arlington to visit with our oldest daughter, Rebekah, and her husband, John. Instead of taking them out to dinner, they took us out to a holiday party hosted by her Tae Kwon Do instructor. There we had the pleasure of meeting with her friends and being there in person as she was presented with an unexpected award for her Indomitable Spirit.
The next day, as we started back toward North Carolina, I found myself going again through many emotions as I realized anew that this trip was the one we were supposed to be taking back home in May 2013 after a week of family celebrations–with AnnaLeah & Mary a part of our festivities and part of the crew returning home. I must admit that the trip was hard–with many memories triggered as we passed by landmarks.
Exit 128 was where the crash took place 2 hours before ours and 2 miles ahead of our crash at Exit 130. That caused the traffic backup which the truck driver did not notice in time and consequently hit our car pushing us into another truck.
That night, as we decided to call it a day and stop for the night in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, I saw a sign for the University of Alabama and I knew that Birmingham was just down the road apiece. I thought, hey, that’s where Dean Sicking is! We had only talked with Dean on the phone and corresponded with him via email about his proposed Underride Research Project.
Dean Sicking’s Underride Research Project Proposal: Development of Trailer Underride Preventive Measures
So, the next morning, before eating breakfast, I emailed Dean and his Research Assistant, Kevin Schrum, and said we were going to be driving through Birmingham and to give me a call if we could meet. A bit later, first Dean called to say he was going to be in a meeting that morning but he thought Kevin would be available. Then Kevin called and said that he would love to meet with us. We then had a very good meeting with Kevin and even recorded a few minutes of him talking about his passion for research and his confidence that much improvement could be made.
Kevin shared how he–like his mentor Dean Sicking–believes that the underride problem is not insurmountable and is hopeful that, with adequate backing, they could develop a step-by-step solution which could be adopted by the industry to ultimately reduce underride deaths to zero.
We were also able to talk about some ways in which they might be able to help us seek additional funding to back the research.
After such an eventful trip, I did not have much memory or battery left on my camera, but I was able to capture some of Kevin’s passion and ideas on this video:
As if all of this were not enough, shortly after we got back on the road, I discovered that I had missed a call from Mark Rosekind, the Administrator of NHTSA, who wanted to give me a heads up that they were releasing a NPRM (Notice of Proposed Rule Making) proposing that the requirements for rear underride guards on tractor trailers be improved!
We have been awaiting this news ever since the initial Advance Notice of Proposed Rule Making (ANPRM) was announced in July 2014 following our delivery of over 11,000 petition signatures requesting this on May 5, 2014. So this was unexpected excitement to add to our trip.
Not being at my computer hampered the following hours as I attempted to find out as much as I could. A summary of the proposed rule is that it will upgrade the requirements to match the Canadian standards (requiring them to withstand a crash at 35 mph rather than 30 mph), which many U.S. companies are already doing.
However, after a very cursory review of the 108 pages, as far as I can tell it does not address the problem with current standards failing in offset crashes (when the smaller vehicle does not hit dead center at the back of the truck). And the NPRM anticipates 1 saved life out of the 125 reported PCI underride crash fatalities on average annually. (Our crash is not reported as a PCI crash fatality but rather is listed in the federal crash data as “Passenger Compartment Intrusion Unknown“!) What about the other 124?
Shortly after finding out this news, I also got a phone call from Jeff Plungis, a Bloomberg News reporter who had interviewed me last year extensively on the underride issue (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-12-16/dead-girls-mom-says-100-truck-fix-may-have-saved-them.html). He asked me what my reaction was to the NPRM and later in the day published this article: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-12-07/stronger-truck-guards-proposed-by-u-s-to-cut-rear-impact-deaths.
Here is the press release from NHTSA on the rear underride NPRM: “A key component of DOT’s safety mission is ensuring that trucking, an essential element in our transportation system, operates not just efficiently, but safely,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said. “Today’s proposal is another important step in that effort.” – See more at: https://www.transportation.gov/briefing-room/usdot-issues-nprm-improved-rear-impact-trailers-semitrailers#sthash.j6eu5DN1.dpuf
And here is the NPRM itself: NPRM-underride.Dec2015
Take a moment to read Administrator Mark Rosekind’s thoughts on this important development in truck safety:
“Although the responsibility for both of these measures [this NPRM along with the ANPRM on Single Unit Trucks] lands on truck owners, that’s a function of vehicle design more than crash causality. We’ve also taken a number of steps over the years to prevent crashes resulting from driver behaviors, such as drunk driving, speeding, and distracted driving. And, we’re accelerating the spread of crash avoidance technologies such as automatic emergency braking and lane departure warning for passenger vehicles sold in the US.
“But, when we have a cost-effective solution that can reduce the risk of death or injury to passenger vehicle occupants in the event of a crash into the rear of a trailer or semitrailer, our commitment to safety obligates us to propose it. Which is why today we’re proposing this enhancement of current rear impact guard standards.” https://www.transportation.gov/fastlane/nhtsa-proposes-new-rear-impact-guard-standards
All in all, it was quite an eventful–albeit SAFE–trip!