October 16th, 2018

It’s time to act when even the trucking industry says there’s a problem

By Medicine Hat News Opinon on August 8, 2018.

There’s nothing like a summer road trip — music playing, latte in hand — to create that glorious feeling of freedom.

Until, that is, your knuckles are white, gripping the steering wheel as a transport truck looms too close in the rear-view mirror or swerves in the lane ahead.

And there seems to be increasing cause for concern on that front.

(In Ontario alone), there have been 33 fatal accidents involving transport trucks from January to mid-July this year, according to the latest Ontario Provincial Police statistics. That’s a 38 per-cent increase compared to the same period in 2017.

The worst region is Ontario’s north east, with nine deadly accidents involving trucks compared to just one in 2017.

While the OPP investigates culpability in those accidents, Sergeant Kerry Schmidt is sending a warning to all motorists. “Pay attention. When 80,000 pounds of steel is coming down the road, the compact car is going to lose.”

Good advice, but some truckers create unavoidable peril. And so the OPP is focusing on distracted and dangerous truckers.

In Ontario, police are now targeting truck drivers from “non-traditional” vehicles — like other commercial trucks — with cabs that sit high so officers can see into the cabs of adjacent trucks in a search for distracted drivers.

Enforcement is needed, but as Schmidt points out, there are already road safety laws in place. Drivers of vehicles — large and small — would save lives by simply following those rules.

Dangerous driving, like cutting in and out of traffic lanes or following other cars too closely can lead to a chain reaction accident. Now, add in a distracted truck driver hurtling toward a so-far non-fatal crash and the outcome is devastating.

That’s why more attention must also be paid to what happens before truck drivers get behind the wheel.

Trucking used to be a profession where drivers made a decent living and spent decades behind the wheel. But many things have changed, and a shortage of drivers results in less experienced ones driving longer distances, in more complex rigs.

Even Stephen Laskowski, president of the Ontario Trucking Association, is calling for stronger federal and provincial rules to ensure drivers have more training before they get the right to drive a truck .

Ontario’s former Liberal government increased training requirements after a 2014 Star investigation highlighted two serious problems. Unregulated truck driving schools were exploiting a loophole that allowed them to circumvent provincial oversight. And there was a lack of formal training required to obtain a licence.

As a result, the Ministry of Transportation created mandatory entry-level training for new tractor trailer drivers.

That was worthy change, but Ontario’s new Progressive Conservative government should add more protections — particularly in its oversight of the industry.

“If you are looking to be an entrepreneur in trucking, it’s far too easy,” says Laskowski. The vast majority — 90 per cent — of trucking companies are not properly audited with a visit from Transportation Ministry inspectors, he says. That doesn’t mean those companies have safety problems but, as he says, “it shows how they can get lost in the system.”

And there certainly are trucking companies flouting safety rules by disconnecting the “speed governors” that limit Ontario trucks to 105 km/hr, or letting drivers spend more hours behind the wheel than allowed, he says.

A tired truck driver is a dangerous truck driver.

Government action to strengthen training and oust fly-by-night operators won’t stop all accidents, but it is an important step toward road safety.

When the trucking industry itself is asking for more oversight, it seems pretty clear that there are problems that need fixing.

— Toronto Star

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