Widow urges support for cab crashworthiness standards

| 7/13/2011

Sarah VanWasshnova is used to public speaking as part of her job as an educator of high school students. However, she says she still finds it a bit “surreal” meeting with members of Congress, telling them about her husband Carl’s fatal accident, and asking them to support tougher crashworthiness standards for heavy truck cabs.

This is her second trip to Capitol Hill to share her husband Carl’s story – and the importance of airbags in the cabs of commercial vehicles.

On Wednesday, July 13, she met with key Congressional staffers on various committees in the House of Representatives, as well as had the opportunity to meet Senator Bill Nelson, D-FL in person, where she shared her story about what happened to Carl and why she believes he would be alive today if his daycab had been equipped with an airbag.

“I started out by asking the senator if he knew that the only standards for cab crashworthiness were that they have a seatbelt and the door couldn’t be wired shut,” she told Land Line on Wednesday. “I think everyone there was surprised to hear this.”

In November 2009, Carl was only going approximately 30 mph when he veered across the median to avoid a possible collision in front of him and hit an empty FedEx trailer. He died at the scene of blunt force trauma after hitting the steering column during the crash.

“If there would have been an airbag, maybe it would have protected him by maintaining a space between him and the steering column,” VanWasshnova said recently. “He might have been injured but at least he would still be here.”

OOIDA’s Director/Government Affairs Counsel Laura O’Neill attended the meetings with VanWasshnova on Wednesday.

“What we are asking for at this point, and what others in the industry agree with, is at minimum this issue should be studied. At this point we are optimistic that language requiring further study could appear during the highway bill reauthorization.  There are certainly no guarantees, but we are going to keep reaching out to lawmakers and continuing the dialogue on this," said O’Neill.

As the U.S. House and Senate draft their versions of a new highway bill, VanWasshnova said it’s important for truck drivers and their families to contact their lawmakers, urging them to “support the movement for cab crashworthiness standards to be part of the highway bill.”

Some drivers say they are opposed to any additional regulatory burdens being placed on them, which can be costly.

Recently, OOIDA Regulatory Affairs Director Joe Rajkovacz said, “There are even scarier scenarios,” referring to proposed mandates of crash avoidance systems and other technology, which could cost thousands – not hundreds like an airbag.

“I understand that passenger vehicles don’t stand a chance against a truck, and I can empathize with anyone who has lost someone in a passenger vehicle or a truck accident,” VanWasshnova said. “But I do believe that truck drivers have a right to be protected, too. If the headlines read that 600 teachers or 600 secretaries die each year just trying to complete their jobs, public reaction would be much different, but that isn’t the case when it comes to the trucking industry.”

VanWasshnova said she is just doing what Carl would want her to do.

“I don’t deserve any credit. I am just trying to make things better for someone else,” she said.