One Family’s Quest to Improve Truck Safety

On May 4, 2013, Marianne Karth was on her way to a family get-together when a tractor-trailer accidentally crashed into her vehicle. The force of the crash spun her car around and sailed it trunk-first underneath a different tractor-trailer. Though Marianne and her son Caleb in the front seat survived the accident with significant injuries, her daughters AnnaLeah and Mary in the backseat were not so lucky.

Following the accident, Marianne learned that her daughters’ lives could have very well been spared if the truck her vehicle was slammed into had stronger underride guards. Underride guards are the steel contraptions suspended off the back of trucks to prevent smaller vehicles from sliding underneath the truck. However, many of these guards – even when they are installed properly and meet legal requirements – still aren’t strong enough to prevent a car from smashing beneath a truck.

While it was too late for AnnaLeah and Mary, the Karths realized they could still help prevent other families from experiencing the same unnecessary grief. Since then, Marianne and her clan have devoted themselves to advocating for increased truck safety.

“Our family has always been close,” said Marianne. “Because we taught our [nine] kids at home, we all have spent a lot of time together and have solved many problems as a team. That means that the pain of our loss is greater, but it also means that it has been a positive thing to be able to work together on this new, unexpected challenge as a way to deal with our grief and to do something vital in memory of AnnaLeah and Mary.”

Marianne credits a petition she created at Care2, which amassed over 11,000 signatures, as being their biggest success to date. She and her family brought the petitions to the Department of Transportation in Washington, D.C. to demonstrate how many people care about truck safety. This lobbying has helped to put a few important truck-related changes into motion:

1. Keeping sleepy drivers off the road

Because so many truck accidents are related to tired drivers, the Department of Transportation is in the process of unveiling an Electronic Logging Device, which will monitor how many hours a truck driver is on the road. The rules on the ELD are expected to be revealed in the upcoming weeks.

 2. Increasing insurance liability

The legal minimum insurance coverage for trucks hasn’t been increased in more than three decades. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is currently exploring the idea of increasing the necessary coverage.

3. Improving underride guards

At the present, the United States is way behind Europe in underride guard requirements. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is currently considering changes to underride guards, but progress on this subject has been extremely slow.

Understandably, the Karths are frustrated at how sometimes bureaucracy can impede modifications that seem like a common sense approach for saving lives. A lot of the resistance to change comes down to a matter of money. Requiring sturdier technology will mean more money spent by the truck industry, which in turn gets passed along to the consumers who buy the goods transported by the trucks. Since money is king, unambiguous proof that safer underride guards are not only possible but affordable will probably be necessary before existing regulations are changed.

To keep the girls’ memories alive and continue to push for improved truck safety, the Karth family incorporated the nonprofit AnnaLeah & Mary for Truck Safety this summer. Since change is unlikely to come without sufficient research, the nonprofit seeks to raise funds to conduct the research that could ultimately result in real policy change. This nonprofit is the direction the family’s activism will take for the foreseeable future.

“We are convinced by our communication with engineers that it is possible to design stronger more effective underride protection systems,” said Marianne. “Now we just have to prove it and persuade the regulators and the trucking industry that there are affordable technologies to save lives.”

Photo credit: Thinkstock

42 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus C1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Carole R.
Carole R2 years ago

Such a sad story. This is something that needs to be addressed. You take your life in your hands every time you drive the interstaet highways.

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Christine Ko
.2 years ago

Sad, but Marianne is kind enough for not letting the tragedy happen to other again. Kudos to her!

Underride guards. Underride guards. Underride guards.

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Julia Cabrera-Woscek

I am sorry for her loss. What a tragedy! Thank you for speaking up, dear.

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Beth Wilkerson
Beth Wilkerson2 years ago

so sorry for the Karth family

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Sue H.
Sue H2 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

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brenda t.
brenda t2 years ago

A friend of mine retired recently from the CHP as a big rig inspector. You people don't know the half of it and probably don't want to. I keep my distance from them as much as possible when I can and hope for the best when they pass me. Probably more than half the rigs out there have some kind of safety issue. Thats not counting the drivers. I always felt a little safer knowing how many she was getting off the road.

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Maggie W.
Maggie D2 years ago

My sympathies to the Karth family for their loss. Underride guards do save lives but if the trucking industry implemented them without determining the cost to consumers they would be raked over the coals.

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luna starr
luna starr2 years ago

horiblly sad for all

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Leah S.
Leah S2 years ago

I hope there is some help.

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