WASHINGTON — Hope Rivenburg was pregnant with twins the night her truck-driver husband Jason was killed.
It was Thursday, March 5, 2009. Jason had pulled into an abandoned gas station in South Carolina for the night, out of hours and, one must presume, fatigued.
His next delivery wasn’t until morning and when his wife called dispatch and asked to talk to him, they informed her that the delivery didn’t take place and they couldn’t get a hold of him.
On Saturday morning, the body of her 35-year-old husband was found in the cab of his truck. He had been shot and killed. The motive: robbery. His killer made off with a measly $7.
Hope is now a widow with three small children, living in a tiny rural town in New York.
Still — her full plate notwithstanding — she’s determined to make sure the same fate doesn’t happen to anybody else.
This week, to mark the anniversary of Jason’s death, Rivenburg and her family went to Washington to press legislators to give truck drivers more safe options to park or rest overnight.
After a whirlwind introduction into the world of bureaucracies, federal politics and lawmaking, Rivenburg finally engaged the help of Reps. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., and Erik Paulsen, R-Minn, with whom she had “Jason’s Law” introduced into Congress on April 29, 2009.
Flanked by the co-sponsors on Capital Hill, Rivenburg pressed for passage of the bill, which would create a $120 million pilot program to create new parking areas in highway corridors with a severe shortage. It would also enhance facilities near existing truck stops and travel plazas; open up of parking facilities at weigh stations and park-and-ride facilities; and improve to the design of interstate interchanges so parking facilities are easier to enter and exit.
Drivers, who sacrifice so much to do their jobs, "should not be asked to sacrifice their lives," she said.
"Jason’s Law" is also supported by the American Trucking Associations, OOIDA and the Teamsters. "For many of our members, the highway is their workplace and we want to make sure it’s safe," President Jim Hoffa said.
In a recent interview with Today’s Trucking, Tonko indicated that the only opposition he faces in the House is fiscally related. “How do you put a pricetag on safety and prevention?” Tonko asks. “It’s very difficult for some people to absorb the argument of prevention,” he says.
Since the introduction of the bill, Rivenburg has had messages of support from drivers around the world.
"We tried to not let the anger get to us and put [Jason’s death] into something positive,” she told Today’ s Trucking before visiting Washington. "We’re trying to protect other people so that nobody else — even if we only help one person — has to go through this.”
North of the 49th, the shortage of parking spaces for truckers is even worse.
Last fall, the Owner-Operator’s Business Association of Canada (OBAC) surveyed drivers to get their views on the shortage of truckstops and she plans on presenting the results to Transport Canada in an effort to improve the situation.
However, says executive director Joanne Ritchie, because the provinces are responsible for most of their own transportation infrastructure, legislation like Jason’s Law could never work in Canada.
“[Canada] has a very fragmented approach when it comes to the provincial system,” Ritchie says. “You have to work around it. It causes huge problems for something like trucking where a truck is a mobile unit that operates in every jurisdiction. That’s why it takes so long to get anything done.”
She says there are a few short-term fixes the government could look into to protect drivers while they rest. “[The government] could take some existing municipal property and turn it into rest areas,” Ritchie says. Alternatives include transforming closed-down scales into safe parking areas.
Those properties are ideal, she says, as they have already been cleared and paved. But currently, they’re blocked off by barriers and ditches to prevent truckers from parking illegally.
Governments don’t want to open the gates haphazardly and accept the insurance and liability issues, she says.
Derek Hurst, of Utopia, Ont., makes daily runs between Toronto and Buffalo, but prior to that, he trucked through the U.S.
He says the Americans have done a better job of supplying rest areas on major highways than Canada, but he says many aren’t "adequate to meet the needs of all the trucks that are on the highway,” he says.
When the American and Canadian governments created the current hours-of-service (HOS) rules, nobody thought about where drivers would park when they ran out of hours, says Ritchie, who adds that the problem could be more pronounced when regulators mandate EOBRs.
Stateside, at least, there’s hope. If Jason’s Law is passed, the amount of safe and available parking in the U.S. will increase substantially over the next six years.
Here, a solution is only possible if the entire supply chain pitches in.
And, as Ritchie, notes, "I don’t know how we’re going to that, given the complexity of it all."
Learn more about Hope’s campaign at www.jhlrivenburg.com.
— by Farrah Cole
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