“We’re hopeful that…Biden will be the one,” said Daphne Izer, who lost her teenaged son Jeffrey when he and three of his friends were struck by a Walmart truck in 1993 on the Maine Turnpike and killed. The truck driver had fallen asleep at the wheel of his tractor trailer.
Many family members of truck crash victims believe that they now, finally, have an advocate and an ally in the White House in President Biden, following many years of a lack of federal oversight in regards to these kinds of crashes and the deaths they cause.
A group of survivors and family members who, between them, have lost 28 people to roadway truck crashes, wrote a personalized letter to President Biden urging him to align with their common cause and requested more action from the White House in regards to trucking safety and in the prevention truck-related collisions on American roadways.
Biden lost his own wife and daughter in a deadly crash in 1972, and survived the incident himself. When the letter was announced, signatories mentioned his recent visit to the grave of Neilia, his first wife, and his daughter, Naomi, who both died in the tractor trailer collision. Biden’s two young sons were injured, but fortunately survived the crash.
The incident was investigated, but had no criminal charges filed against the truck driver.
Izer signed the letter, along with her husband, Steve, in collaboration with the Truck Safety Coalition, a group that works to boost efforts from the government in decreasing numbers of American truck crashes, injuries, and fatalities. According to recent numbers, more than 5,000 people died in large truck-related crashes in 2020, and that number has continued to rise over the last few years.
“The public is being massacred on the highways by big trucks, and it’s unnecessary,” said president emeritus of non-profit consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, Joan B. Claybrook. Claybrook is also the previous head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
In the letter, these families and safety advocates pushed for the federal requirement of speed limiters, automatic emergency braking becoming standard equipment on all new trucks, and stronger guards being installed for the prevention of smaller vehicles from sliding underneath large trucks in a collision. The European Union, as well as other areas around the globe, already require these kinds of safety regulations for new trucks, but the United States has yet to make such mandates, according to the letter.
“During the past four years, the U.S. The Department of Transportation has not advanced a single major safety regulation,” said the letter. “Instead, government officials have relentlessly attacked existing truck safety rules with efforts to increase the work hours of truckers and to allow teen truckers to operate in interstate commerce.”
The safety advocates urged Biden to choose new leaders without any corporate influence or industry ties who are able to provide leadership within the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the NHTSA.
“We cannot wait and allow another 20,000 truck crash deaths and 600,000 injuries in the next four years when solutions are already at hand,” the letter continued.
As of now, former Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg has appeared before senators in consideration for his nomination for transportation secretary as Biden’s pick. Once confirmed, one of Buttigieg’s deputies will be Massachusetts secretary of transportation, Stephanie Pollack. Pollack is also set to lead the Federal Highway Administration.
Biden has already named his NHTSA and FMCSA deputy administrators, but hasn’t chosen other top job candidates.
“We need somebody who wants to be a regulator,” said former president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Jackie Gillan. “What you need are standards and enforcement, and both of these are missing right now.”
In September, a study was released suggesting that safety features such as forward collision warnings and automatic emergency braking become commonplace in an effort to improve overall roadway safety. Auto insurers supporting the claim, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety report noted that these safety features would be able to prevent at least 40 percent of rear-end crashes instigated by large trucks.
According to the research, these kinds of systems slowed vehicle speeds by more than 50 percent when these rear end crashes occurred, decreasing injuries and vehicle damage.
NHTSA granted a safety advocate petition requiring braking systems to be implemented into large trucks in 2015, but the agency has yet to move forward with this proposal.
Adding in automated safety features and calling out government neglect in regards to truck safety regulations are the keys to bettering American roadway safety, an idea made clear in Representative Seth Moulton’s recent National Transportation Safety Board report. The Report detailed a 2019 New Hampshire truck crash that killed seven motorcyclists and clearly showed the lack of government oversight in regards to truck safety conditions.
“Trucking companies that choose to break the law can do so without fearing consequences unless there’s a tragedy,” said Moulton.
Claybrook agreed, mentioning an investigative series by the Boston Globe that pointed out the loopholes and caveats within the government’s current trucking regulation system. The series found that one in five of American commercial trucks is in such poor condition that it would immediately be removed from service if properly investigated by safety inspectors.
“It brought to light what a lot of people just don’t know,” said Claybrook. “They don’t know [or] understand that they’re dealing with rolling time bombs on the highway.”