Almost 23 years have passed since Daphne Izner’s 17-year-old son and three of his friends, parked in the breakdown lane of the Maine Turnpike when their car overheated, were struck and instantly killed by a tired trucker. Despite causing four deaths, the truck driver was never charged with manslaughter. Drowsy driving wasn’t – and still isn’t – punishable by law in Maine. (The driver did ultimately serve three months in jail for falsely logging his work hours, a major problem in the Maine trucking industry.) Last year, HB 683, which would have made it a crime to operate a vehicle after 24 consecutive hours without sleep or while the person’s ability or alertness is so impaired by fatigue that it’s unsafe, failed in the state senate.
Nonetheless, Izner has not given up her 23-year fight to make Maine’s roads safer. A year after their son died, Izner and her husband founded Parents Against Tired Truckers (PATT) which has been a force for change on Maine’s roads.
In 2002, PATT became the Truck Safety Coalition after joining forces with Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways. But for all the progress she and other safe trucking advocates have made, there are those in Congress who are still actively working to peel back federal safety regulations for the trucking industry. Specifically, the hours of service regulations for truckers is one that lobbyists have been working to scale back. Safety advocates like Izner aren’t giving up. They know how much is at stake.
Izner has spoken to numerous media outlets over the years, choosing to relive her pain each time in the hopes it will force change – and hopefully prevent some other family from knowing the same devastating loss.
Most recently, she connected with an associated editor for The Huffington Post, where she detailed her accomplishments and future goals.
One of the first successes was when Maine agreed to install rumble strips on its highways, as well as on some other local roads. Rumble strips, which can be either raised or grooved, are installed along a roadside, either at the edge or the center line, to create noise and vibration that serve to jolt sleepy drivers awake if they cross them. It was a change PATT lobbied for back in the 1990s, shortly after her son’s accident. Izner notes is a fairly easy fix, and one that might have saved the lives of her son and his friends.
She also touts the success of the Tired Trucker Bill, which allows greater accountability for trucking companies in Maine when their drivers cause injury or death due to fatigue or other negligence. Additionally, damage caps at the time of her son’s death were set at just $75,000 in Maine. She has advocated to have that amount raised, and today, the damage cap is set at $500,000.
“It’s about sending a message that this is a serious crime,” Izner said, noting that the increase in damage caps don’t affect her retroactively.
Because drowsy driving is notoriously difficult to test for, many truckers and other drivers skate by without serious consequences, even when they cause a major truck accident. Izner expressed encouragement at a number of new technologies that may make testing for fatigue easier. One of those is the use of an EEG, formally known as an electroencephalogram, which might be able to measure a person’s fatigue by tracking their brain waves. Another possible technology that might be used is Doppler radar, normally used in forecasting weather.
While those features are still in development, she said it’s imperative that trucking logs become automated and electronic. Many have referred to the old paper-and-pen laws as “comic books,” because everyone knows them to be “a joke.” Habitual lying about the number of hours worked has been common in the trucking industry. Electronic logging would help change that.
If you are the victim of a Bangor car accident, contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-490-5218 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.
Inside One Woman’s Fight to Get Tired Truckers Off the Road, June 15, 2016, By Krithika Varagur, The Huffington Post
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Maine Leaders Struggle to Address Drug-Impaired Driving, June 25, 2016, Maine Truck Accident Lawyer Blog