Family continues fight for trucking safety

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Rocky Mount resident Marianne Karth shakes hands with U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., during a recent meeting in Washington, D.C. Byron Bloch, middle, an auto safety expert, also was at the meeting when Karth and her family advocated for increased safety regulations, especially for tractor trailers.

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By Brie Handgraaf
Staff Writer

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Signatures of more than 20,000 people from across the globe are a key component to “Vision Zero,” a truck safety advocacy book published by a local family and delivered to national officials during a recent trip to Washington, D.C.

“It is encouraging to know we’re not out there on our own, but that there are thousands of others who have become aware of this issue and are willing to take the time to support us in our fight to improve safety on our roadways,” Marianne Karth said. “And not only do they support us, but they add to our voice so that hopefully it will make more of an impact with the people who can do something about this problem.”

The mother of nine was in the car with three of her children heading to family celebrations in Texas when their 2005 Ford Crown Victoria was hit by a tractor-trailer then pushed underneath the rear of another tractor-trailer. Her youngest daughters, 13-year-old Mary Lydia and 17-year-old AnnaLeah, died from injuries sustained in the collision, which spurred the family on a crusade to fight for increased regulations in hopes other families would not endure the same pain.

The Karth’s advocacy started soon after the wreck and included the delivery of a petition of more than 11,000 signatures to national officials on the one-year anniversary of the collision. In the years since, they have met with trucking companies to advocate for voluntary upgrades to underride guards — the steel bar designed to prevent a passenger vehicle from going underneath a truck during a crash — meanwhile starting a foundation in their late daughters’ names to help fund research for better underride guards and working with legislators to improve regulations surrounding the guards.

“It has been almost 20 years since any improvements have been made on this safety standard and new regulations should be required reflecting advancements in technology,” said Jerry Karth, the father of Mary and AnnaLeah. “There are other countries worldwide that have developed stronger designs and standards and have participated in studies regarding safer practices, which should be reviewed and possibly adopted.”

An extensive process must take place before regulatory changes can be approved, including the rulemaking process that includes public comments and the 20,119 signatures the Karths collected through Care2: The Petition Site. Those signatures along with a collection of comments and more information is included in the 544-page book the Karths delivered to officials last week. The book along with a letter and drawing from Marianne Karth’s granddaughter also will be delivered to President Barack Obama as they plead for his issuance of an executive order that changes the way regulations are considered from a cost-benefit analysis that often outweighs the cost of a human life to a cost-effectiveness analysis, which compares the relative costs and the outcomes.

“The problem comes in when human life and health get the short end of the stick,” the petition states. “The result is that many safety measures are blocked because they would cost more to implement than the ’worth’ of the ’small’ number of human lives which would be saved. That’s just not right.”

The petition — which includes information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration stating an estimated 33,000 people die each year in the U.S. in traffic collisions — will be kept open for people to sign until a Vision Zero rulemaking policy is adopted and is available at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/417/742/234/save-lives-not-dollars-urge-dot-to-adopt-vision-zero-policy/. A copy of the full book can be purchased at http://www.lulu.com/shop/marianne-karth/vision-zero-petition/hardcover/product-22564055.html. Marianne Karth also advocated for residents to contact Obama on behalf of the effort at https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact. 

As for the Karths, they plan to continue their advocacy with support of organizations such as the Truck Safety Coalition, work with researchers such as Triangle-based accident reconstruction specialist Aaron Kiefer who has developed a design that will allow retrofitting an improved underride protection system on trailers already on the highways and coordination of the Truck Underride Roundtable in May at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that is expected to draw trucking companies, legislators and advocates together to develop a strategy to improve safety.

“If our Vision Zero requests, especially for improved underride protection, can save lives — i.e., prevent crash deaths — and we do not pursue this course of action as a nation, then who is responsible for all of the deaths which will occur as a result?” Marianne Karth said.