Marianne Karth Wants Biden to Move to Prevent Traffic Violence

Marianne Karth wants President Biden to move to prevent traffic violence.

In a letter to Biden last week, Karth asked for a favor.

Mary and AnnaLeah Karth

“I know that you will understand why I am asking this because you, like me, lost loved ones due to traffic violence,” Karth wrote.

“Fortunately, most people do not understand the depth of the grief involved when a life is snatched away unexpectedly due to a preventable traffic crash,” Karth wrote. “Of course, there are many factors involved in this kind of violence. Not all of them can be prevented, but many can – with a lot of hard work.”

“That’s where you come in. I have become convinced that vulnerable victims of vehicle violence need a vigilant voice to stand up for them in D.C. – they need a National Traffic Safety Ombudsman. That is why I am hoping that you will appoint someone on your staff to work with a group of us, who have lost loved ones in this way, to bring this about.”

“We have drafted ideas for a National Vision Zero Goal, a White House Vision Zero Task Force, and a National Traffic Safety Ombudsman. Please be our champion and take these vital actions to protect vulnerable road users in our country.”

Karth lost two of her daughters in a truck underride crash in 2013.

“On May 4, 2013, I got into our Crown Vic with the three youngest of our nine children,” Karth told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last week. “We had moved from Texas to North Carolina with the three youngest children. We were headed back to Texas for a big family celebration. Four of our older children were graduating from college in Texas. And our oldest daughter was getting married a week later on May 11.” 

“I was with Anna Leah who was 17, Caleb who was 15, and Mary was 13. My husband Jerry was going to stay and work for a week and then he was going to fly out at the end of the week.” 

“We got on I-20 in Georgia and came upon a traffic back up. We slowed down, but a truck driver hit us from behind. He spun us around and we went backwards into the back of another tractor trailer. The rear underride guard came off. And the back of our car was underneath the trailer.”

“Anna Leah and Mary were sitting in the back seat. Anna Leah died instantly. And Mary died a few days later from her injuries.” 

“I was in the hospital for about a week from injuries. But I’m physically fine now. Our son in the front seat had a minor concussion and was released from the ER that night.”

“We survived the crash because our part of the car didn’t go under the truck. Their part of the car did. Hundreds of people every year go under trucks.”

Hundreds die every year. And the vast majority of these deaths are preventable. The engineering solutions exist – strong front, side and rear underride guards. With mass production, the costs to the trucking industry would be negligible.

In 1967, actress Jayne Mansfield died in an underride crash in Louisiana. The publicity from that case led the federal government in 1969 to propose strong underride side guards to prevent similar deaths.

“It has been 52 years – 18,996 days – since they said they were going to add side underride protections to large trucks,” Karth said. “And they have not done so. There has been a lot of technology that has advanced. But they still have not done that. We are bringing it up.” 

“We have reached out to the industry to ask them to voluntarily do it. They haven’t done it for decades. We have petitioned the Department of Transportation to do the rulemaking. Our family had a meeting with the Department of Transportation a year after our crash – seven years ago. NHTSA could just do it.”

Federal legislation that has been introduced this year “would force them to do it,” Karth said. 

“We have been assuming it will take an act of Congress.”

“Someone said – you have the do something scenario and the do nothing scenario. We have to do something.” 

“In 2009, there was an annual bike ride when a cyclist went under a truck and died. One engineer said – they might have been injured by hitting a side guard, but at least they won’t be as flat as a pancake when the wheel goes over them.”

“There is a 1915 patent for side guards. I have it here. It says – ‘the guard or frame thus serves to push anyone who may have been knocked down or otherwise comes against it clear of the rear wheel.'”

“That was a 1915 patent. They knew it.”

 What’s your take on the auto safety groups and how they have done on this issue?

“They are in support of the bill. But again, it’s been 52 years. That’s another reason I want a National Traffic Safety Ombudsman. We need somebody on the inside fighting for us.”

President Biden could hit the button and prevent these horrific truck underride deaths. He could also institutionalize a voice within the government – a traffic safety ombudsman – for victims of traffic violence.

Whether he will stand up to the trucking lobby is an open question.

“I’m hopeful that 2021 will see some progress on underrides rulemaking,” Karth said. “But the victims of any vehicle violence don’t have much of a voice. It is like David versus Goliath. In order for the victims of vehicle violence to be able to make some headway, a national traffic safety advocate is important to have a voice at the table. We have talked with plenty of people at the Department of Transportation. They will listen to us. But they are not transparent. We can’t get information. Once rulemaking starts, they can’t talk to you about it. To think that 52 years have gone by and there is still no action on side guards.”

[For the complete q/a format Interview with Marianne Karth, see 35 Corporate Crime Reporter 13(13), April 5, 2021, print edition only.]

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