Becoming the Voice You Wish Had Been There for You When You Needed It

Daphne Izer

Daphne Izer is being honored as a Transportation Ladders of Opportunity Champion of Change.

When I started what quickly became a full-time job as a truck safety advocate, I never imagined being here today. I am honored to be chosen as a White House Champion of Change, and I hope that every person who worked alongside me and with Parents Against Tired Truckers (PATT) knows that they share in this award. Their support of our mission to reduce truck driver fatigue and shepherd a requirement for electronic logging devices (ELDs) through rulemaking will help to reduce truck crashes, save lives, and prevent debilitating injuries.

Truck safety advocacy is a David and Goliath-type battle. We’ve often found ourselves on the other side of issues facing industries and corporations with tremendous funds and considerable work forces. However, we learned early on that what we lack in resources we make up for with our volunteers’ and their families’ abundant heart and dedication. This transcends dollars and numbers and ensures that our voices are heard and our concerns addressed.

Twenty years ago this May, my husband Steve and I founded PATT after a truck driver fell asleep at the wheel of his 80,000-pound rig, killing four innocent teenagers and seriously, permanently injuring one more. One of those killed was our son Jeff. As a result of this horrific, preventable crash, four beautiful teenagers: Jeff, age 17; Angie, age 16; Dawn Marie, age 15; and Katie, age 14, were killed. Linda, age 15, survived but was seriously injured. Five families and a tight-knit community suffered incomparable personal loss as a result of a single tired trucker. 

Steve and I were heartbroken, and our grief deepened when we learned that truck driver fatigue was a known safety issue going as far back as the 1930’s. Our grief soon turned into anger when we realized no one was there to fight for our son and other victims of truck crashes—a group that was far too many in number, on average 4,000 are killed and another 100,000 more are injured each year in truck crashes. The only way we thought we could survive our grief and anger was by taking action to make sure other families would not have to suffer a similar loss. For those that did suffer loss and injuries, we wanted to make sure that they would have the grief and support services, and information that we desperately needed, but did not have, when we tried to navigate the post-crash process by ourselves.

Unfortunately, the number of fatigue-related truck crashes is high. Our ability to reach every family that needed us quickly grew beyond the capacity of PATT, even after I went part-time in my day job as a school nurse to dedicate more hours to PATT and our work. We needed help, and a solution came along when we were given the opportunity to join forces with Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH) to form the Truck Safety Coalition. PATT grew from a Maine grassroots group meeting around our kitchen table to a nationally recognized organization working through the Truck Safety Coalition (TSC).

On July 6, 2012, President Obama signed into law the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), which included a mandate for rulemaking for ELDs in all commercial vehicles. After nearly two decades advocating for a requirement for the use of ELDS, our voices were finally being heard. The ELD rule will accurately record truck driver hours behind the wheel, prevent the falsification of paper log books, reduce stopping time for review of hours of service, and as a result help to reduce truck driver fatigue and fatigue-related truck crashes.

Attaining the rule for ELDs and being recognized by the White House are tremendous but bittersweet rewards. I know that these victories will help to educate the public and lawmakers about truck safety issues and will help to keep other families whole. This is everything that I have hoped for in our work, but, it is also a reminder of how much we lost.

PATT and its partners, Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH) and the Truck Safety Coalition (TSC), are dedicated to reducing the number of preventable deaths and injuries caused by truck-related crashes, providing compassionate support to truck crash survivors and families of truck crash victims, and educating the public, policymakers, and media about truck safety issues.

Daphne Izer is the Founder of Parents Against Tired Truckers (PATT).

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