It's no coincidence that the truck driver hours of service rule and fatigue quickly become the issue in any truck accident - no matter what the cause of the crash.
The Truck Safety Coalition, a citizens' lobby working to impose stricter regulations on the trucking industry, is on the lookout to turn truck tragedies into political causes.
A traffic collision in Southern California on May 4, 2007, is a perfect example of how this organization works to promote its own agenda.
On that day, Lori Coble, 30, was driving home from lunch on Interstate 5 with her mother, Cynthia Maestri, 60, in the front seat of the family's minivan. Behind them were Kyle, 5, who was playing a video game, Emma, 4, who was watching TV, and Katie, 2, who was asleep.
Traffic was moving rapidly in the center and left lanes, but the right lane was stop-and-go with cars backed up on the Mission Viejo exit ramp that Lori Coble intended to take. A tractor-trailer loaded with 20 tons of electronics and traveling an estimated 70 mph slammed into the back of the minivan, killing all three children and seriously injuring Lori Coble and her mother.
The Truck Safety Coalition went into action. The group has what it calls, "The First Response Program," which it describes as "a national network of volunteers dedicated to providing immediate, compassionate support to survivors and families of victims of truck crashes. Volunteers, most often members of the Truck Safety Coalition Survivors Network, serve as local resources in their communities and state for families of victims and survivors of truck crashes."
Its mission statement: "We will seekto locate and help new victims of truck crashes byprovidinginformation, encouragement, hope or simply a willing and understanding ear. We will seek to provide them with assistance, comfort and information that we wish someone had provided for us in such a dark time, and to let them know that, if they choose, there are ways to try to make some degree of sense of such a senseless situation. Helping to comfort truck crash victims and helping to satisfy their needs is the foundation for the First Response Program."
The Cobles were contacted and quickly began campaigning for stricter trucking regulations nationwide. Truck driver fatigue, tighter driver hours of service rules, mandatory onboard recorders, driver pay became key topics of discussion in all their interviews with the media.
"I don't really know how you go about talking to lawmakers but we want to raise awareness," Chris Coble, told a local newspaper. "We want to save other children's lives. If we save even one life - that's an accomplishment. Who important has to die before the trucking industry is changed?"
Soon, politicians took notice. California Senator Dianne Feinstein made public her letter to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Administrator John H. Hill:
"On May 4, a tractor-trailer slammed into the back of a minivan on Interstate 5 in Orange County, California, killing three children. On Oct. 12, a fiery crash that took the lives of three people and involved 33 big rigs, destroyed the tunnel beneath the Golden State and Antelope Valley freeways. These devastating crashes in California highlight the cost of not moving forward with common sense measures that could make our highways safer. I am concerned that your regulations to reduce long-distance truck driver fatigue are failing."
Feinstein is now pushing to require onboard electronic recording devices in trucks.
Ironically, truck driver fatigue and falsified logbooks were not at issue in the Coble crash. Traffic had slowed to a crawl on the freeway and the minivan came to a stop in the slow lane. The driver of the tractor-trailer, 37-year-old Jorge Miguel Romero of Apple Valley, apparently didn't see the stopped traffic. His rig crushed the minivan and pushed it into an SUV.
"He just couldn't stop in time," said California Highway Patrol Officer Katrina Lundgren. "There isn't any DUI suspected. There wasn't any inattention. He just couldn't stop."
But you know what they say, never let the facts stand in the way of a good story. And you can count on it that whenever a big rig is involved in a highway tragedy, the victims will be swayed to stump for stricter regulations on trucks.