Widow reminds NHTSA why tougher crashworthiness standards are needed

By Clarissa Kell-Holland, Land Line staff writer | 12/5/2012

Sarah VanWasshnova says she will never forget the date, Nov. 13, 2009, that her husband, Carl, was killed after his 2004 Freightliner day cab collapsed around him in a low-speed crash.

Since Carl’s death, VanWasshnova, from Port Orange, FL, has traveled to Washington, DC, several times, and has been working with Sen. Bill Nelson, D-FL, as well as the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and the American Trucking Associations, to push the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to develop tougher crashworthiness standards. Currently, NHTSA has no regulations for occupant protection, rear impact, head restraints and roof crush for Class 7 and 8 trucks.

In her letter, Sarah VanWasshnova stated that her husband was only going about 35 mph when he hit an empty trailer. 

“The speeds were low; however, I am certain it was the impact from the steering wheel that killed my husband, as blunt force trauma was ruled as the cause of his death,” she wrote in her letter. “If there had been cab crashworthiness standards for the freight company’s 2004 Freightliner, I believe he would be alive and well today.”

While Carl VanWasshnova was wearing his seatbelt, his day cab “was destroyed.”

“In my opinion, we owe these people the same safety protection on the job that any other citizen would have,” Sarah VanWasshnova wrote.

A week earlier, OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer wrote a letter to NHTSA Administrator David Strickland, urging the agency to put truckers’ safety at the forefront as outlined in the new highway bill – Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, or Map 21 – which took effect Oct. 1. Map-21 included a provision requiring comprehensive analysis on the need for developing crashworthiness standards no later than 18 months after the highway bill’s passage, which was in July.

In his letter, Spencer urged the agency to consider improved cab structure to provide the occupant with sufficient survival space and occupant restraints, which include seat belts and air bags. He also recommended improving the strength of windshields and doors to ensure occupant retention and including more forgiving interior surfaces, including padded interior and energy-absorbing steer columns as some of the safety measures NHTSA should review.

“As a result of the lack of even the most basic standards, common sense and inexpensive safety enhancements, such as air bags, have been overlooked for decades, while supposed safety technologies for the vehicle have been prioritized,” Spencer told the agency.

Sarah VanWasshnova said she will continue to advocate for tougher cab crashworthiness standards for the millions of truck drivers out on the road daily.

“While the wheels of the agencies are spinning, so are the wheels of millions of trucks on America’s highways, and lives are being lost,” she wrote. “Something must be done.”

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