LISBON — For Daphne Izer, Wednesday marks a painful anniversary.
“We relive everything,” Izer said. “It never gets easier.”
Twenty-five years ago, Izer’s son, Jeff, 17, and four of his friends pulled into a breakdown lane on the Maine Turnpike after their car started to overheat. They were on their way to a haunted hayride in Gorham.
A truck driver, asleep at the wheel, hit their car, killing Jeff and three others. One friend survived.
According to previous reports, the truck driver spent 89 days in the county jail for falsifying log books but was not charged with any other crime.
In the 25 years since the accident, Izer says she has used the anger and grief to help prevent other families from going through similar tragedies.
In May of 1994, she formed Parents Against Tired Truckers. According to PATT’s website, the group has grown from a Maine grassroots group to a nationally recognized organization.
PATT’s aim is to bring awareness to the dangers of drowsy and fatigued truck drivers.
Since founding PATT, Izer has worked to implement safety changes in the trucking industry, traveling to Capitol Hill in Washington to talk with transportation officials and politicians.
She has worked to implement mandatory electronic logging devices in trucks, replacing the old paper log books. According to a story published in 2013 in the Portland Press Herald, the largest number of citations issued to commercial truck drivers in Maine was for logbook violations.
The switch came into law in December 2016. Logging devices will “will limit the ability of truck drivers to exceed Hours of Service regulations, in turn, reducing the likelihood that big rig drivers will become fatigued while driving,” according to the the Truck Safety Coalition.
After operating PATT from her home in Lisbon for many years, Izer needed a change.
“Every spare hour was spent working on truck issues,” said Izer, a retired school nurse. “We had to make a move,” she said.
A few years ago, PATT partnered with the Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways Foundation to form the Truck Safety Coalition, moving the operation of the group from Lisbon to Arlington, Virginia.
But Izer has not stopped her work. She returned from a trip to Washington earlier this month, and she is still working to help change the trucking industry.
“There are still a number of issues,” Izer said.
Izer says she is now pushing for mandatory automatic emergency braking and speed-limiting devices in all trucks. Many large companies already use speed-limiting devices, according to Izer.
Izer said the workload of truckers can push them into dangerous territory, and her organization has worked with truck drivers in the past to help bring about change.
“There’s a lot of problems out there,” Izer said. “We learned they get paid by the mile, and they don’t get paid to load and unload.”
Izer said truck drivers can drive 11 hours before they must stop. After driving 11 hours, truckers can work, but not drive, for another four hours. For every 14-hour shift, truckers usually take a 10-hour break, according to reports.
That system is still dangerous, as the risk of a crash increases after eight to nine hours of driving, according to studies.
“Truck drivers can’t push it like they used to,” Izer said. “They are driven to get loads delivered at any cost, and sometimes that cost is a human life.”
One of those truck drivers, Brandon Millett of Monroe, New Hampshire, said he picks up loads in Maine or Vermont and usually delivers them to New Jersey or Pennsylvania.
As an independent trucker, Millett says he is able to decide when he needs to take a nap or a break.
“If I need a nap, I still take the nap,” he said. “It hurts your business, but a lot of independents err on the side of caution. I don’t want to hurt anyone or kill anyone, and I don’t want to risk my truck and trailer.”
But Millett said larger companies do not always allow the same kind of flexibility. Larger trucking companies sometimes do not have strong training programs, and often have more accidents compared to independent drivers, according to Millett.
Millett said his focus is on caution because of the money he has invested into his own truck — almost the same amount as the mortgage on his house.
“There needs to be a limit,” Millett said. “I just think for the safety and efficiency of myself and commerce, there needs to be more flexibility so that way I’m not penalized” because deliveries are delayed when he must take breaks.
Izer, however, said the goal must be to prevent families from losing loved ones in accidents caused by tired truckers.
And despite the years that have passed since Jeff’s death, she will not stop using the tragedy to help prevent others from suffering the same pain.
“Out of grief, anger and hope for the future, we formed PATT,” she said. “After all these years, there are still issues, and we don’t intend to give up on them.”