Inside A Mother’s Mission To Mandate Automatic Braking Systems In Big Rigs

As reported in the Kansas City Star…

Pam Biddle, a former Kansas City TV station executive now working in Columbus, Ga., is on a mission. Since the day her 23-year-old son, Aaron Lee, her ex-husband, Brian Lee; and Brian Lee’s girlfriend, Stephanie Swaim, were killed in a gruesome accident involving two semis, she has been pushing for more safety regulations for big rigs. Biddle’s loved ones where traveling behind a flatbed semi in a 2014 Toyota Camry on the interstate outside West Terre Haute, Ind. Behind them was a 2016 Volvo semi driven by 38-year-old trucker Jeff Kolkman. Each vehicle was traveling approximately 70 miles-per-hour when traffic up ahead caused the vehicles to have to come to an abrupt stop. Dash cam video from inside Kolkman’s truck shows him holding a tablet computer in his right hand and the steering wheel with his left. His eyes were focused on the tablet at the crucial moment he needed to recognize the situation. By the time he realized he needed to brake it was too late. His semi rear-ended the Camry and shoved the sedan under the flatbed trailer which was loaded with steel pipe. The Camry exploded into a fireball. Biddle’s daughter, Kiera Davis, said of her dad and brother, “Their wallets were the only way they could identify them.”

As tragic as this story is for Biddle and her family she says what makes it even more devastating is, “To know that this could have been prevented, that I could still hold my son and that my children could still hug their father, if only someone with the power to change it had taken action years ago.” She is pushing legislators to mandate the use of automatic emergency braking (AEB) systems also often referred to as forward crash avoidance systems. Long debated in the trucking community, crash avoidance systems are useful depending on who you talk to. President of the Owner Operator Independent Driver’s Association (OOIDA), Todd Spencer, is not a believer as of yet. He told the Kansas City Star newspaper, “We don’t know if they even work.” In the same report by the Star, American Trucking Associations (ATA) spokesman Sean McNally said, “We would like and we would urge equipment manufacturers to make this equipment standard.” Though, to be clear, ATA does not support a government mandate of such safety systems.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has long been an advocate of crash avoidance safety systems. In fact, just this year the safety board once again included automatic emergency braking systems for trucks on its annual list of “Most Wanted Transportation Safety Improvements.” Is the data clear on whether these systems save lives? Former NTSB Chairman, Jim Hall, says yes and he is “disappointed” the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been so slow to act.

As for Biddle, she believes, “It’s taking more lives and it doesn’t need to continue to happen. I would urge them to do something immediately, because it is so preventable.”

We want to know what you think! Sound off in the comments below.

Editor’s note: This video is shared courtesy of the Kansas City Star. This is only a small synopsis of the entire report first appearing in the Kansas City Star. To read the full report please visit the Kansas City Star.

Photo courtesy: Robin Trimarchi, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer

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