The Maine parents who turned tragedy into action, and why they can’t stop
LISBON, Maine (BDN) -- It’s autumn here. Days are getting shorter. Shadows are long, even at midday. Halloween decorations are going up and gleaming, golden leaves are coming down. Everything is pumpkin spiced.
Most Mainers welcome this turn of season. For Daphne and Steve Izer, October means they’ve endured another year without their son. It’s time to call the local papers, write their legislators and testify in Washington, DC, to make sure he didn’t die for nothing.
In 1993 — exactly 25 years ago Wednesday — Jeff Izer, 17, and three other teenagers, were killed when a 80,000-pound tractor trailer truck ran over their stopped car in the breakdown lane on the Maine Turnpike. The truck driver didn’t swerve and never hit the brakes. He was asleep.
Less than a year later, when the Izers learned the driver would not be charged with a crime for the death of their son — not even a traffic ticket — they founded Parents Against Tired Truckers at their dining room table.
Since then, they’ve funneled their grief and rage into PATT, lobbying both the state and federal government for changes in trucking regulation, to make the nation’s roads safer. Eight years after its founding, PATT went national under the Truck Safety Coalition. It now has a full-time staff and is based in Arlington, Virginia.
The Izers are still on the board of directors.
They’ve met with every U.S. secretary of transportation since the crash, testified before state legislative and federal congressional committees. Daphne has published newspaper op-eds and brought their story to hundreds of civic organizations around Maine and the country.
PATT is responsible for the jarring rumble strips lining highways, as well as tamper-proof electronic logbooks for truckers. It also helped pass regulations requiring the state police to investigate commercial truck crashes, instead of local police, and got the wrongful death lawsuit cap raised to $450,000 in Maine.
Every year, the Truck Safety Coalition holds a “Sorrow to Strength” conference for surviving family and friends of those killed by fatigued truckers. The conferences teach survivors to advocate for truck safety improvements and educates them on truck safety issues.
Though they’re both in their 70s now, the Izers aren’t done yet. They can’t be. There’s still too much work to do.
According to a new report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 4,761 people died in crashes with big rigs weighing over 10,000 pounds last year. That’s 9 percent more than in 2016 and 41 percent more than the 3,380 in 2009.
Q: You were just down in Washington again, talking to government trucking safety officials. What were you advocating?
Daphne: Yes, we still go down three or four times a year. We were just talking about automatic emergency braking. It could save a lot of lives.
Q: That’s the system that uses cameras and radar to keep trucks a safe distance from other cars? You’d like to see it mandated on all trucks?
Daphne: Yes. A lot of big trucking companies use it already. It’s not mandatory, but it needs to be. It’s not new technology. The European Union started mandating it on large trucks back in 2012.
Q: I see here on this fact sheet you gave me that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says AEB systems could prevent more than 2,500 truck crashes every year.
Daphne: Yes, and the other thing we need on trucks is speed limiters. It’s been on some trucks for years but it’s often not hooked up.
Steve: They disable it.
Daphne: So, it wouldn’t cost the trucking companies anything and it would save lives. But it’s dragging and dragging and they study things to death while people are dying.
Another thing we’re working on is insurance requirements. The minimum of $750,000 was set in 1980 and it has never changed. Bigger trucking companies have better insurance but the bad actors are still the bad actors. That’s all they have. They go out of business and start up under another name.
Steve: And that’s payable per crash, not per person.
Daphne: That’s crazy. With inflation, that number should be up over $2 million.
Q: It’s been 25 years since Jeff died. Do you ever think about stepping away from all this? It must be so hard to relive it all the time.
Daphne: I’m sure some people think, “Why do they do this to themselves?” It’s because we have a message to give. It’s a kind of therapy. We’re helping others. You cry a lot but it’s going to save lives — and it has saved lives. What better way to honor your child? I think about it every day, anyway.
Q: How many more years can you keep this going?
Steve: Daphne is is where it all comes from, she’s the face of the whole movement.
Daphne: I don’t know. We never, ever thought we had it in us, to do this in the first place.
Steve: We’ll go ‘til we can’t.