Banning dangerous goods shipments in bad weather impractical

So, the Mayor of Prescott, Ont. wants dangerous good shipments banned in bad weather. Mayor Brett Todd, whose town is situated in Eastern Ontario alongside Hwy. 401, Canada’s busiest highway, called for the ban at a City Council meeting after a March 14 pileup that involved a truck carrying dangerous goods.

The highway was closed for 30 hours.

“Why are there not regulations to keep this type of hazardous material off the road when the weather is bad?” the mayor implored, according to reports in local media.

The mayor’s call to ban dangerous good shipments in bad weather is impractical at best, maybe even asinine. As a nation that experiences four seasons and inclement weather, the Canadian transportation network must function under the threat of bad weather for much of the year. To grind to a halt the shipment of dangerous goods whenever bad weather threatens would damage the economy and for what gain?

The Ontario Trucking Association (OTA), in a letter to Mayor Todd, pointed out the trucking industry experiences approximately one spill for every 40,000 shipments it delivers.

It also points out there are more than 2,200 commodities classified as dangerous goods – including shampoo and soap.

They also include gasoline and home heating fuel, as well as chemicals and supplies needed by the local businesses whose taxes contribute to the running of towns like Prescott.

Anyone who has traveled the 401 corridor knows bad weather can pop up unexpectedly. Requiring trucks to park at roadside when this occurs can create an even more dangerous situation, increasing the risk of a car piling into the back of the parked truck.

Requiring trucks to pull off the highway when bad weather looms will divert them into towns like Prescott, in the search of non-existent truck parking facilities. Todd didn’t offer up any viable alternatives when he called for the banning of dangerous goods shipments in bad weather.

Instead he, as bureaucrats are wont to do, called on staff to research Ministry of Transportation regulations and to bring back a report to council. He said the report would be used to drum up support from other municipalities to advance the ban.

Hopefully, when city staffers conduct their research, they’ll discover that drivers hauling dangerous goods are specially trained and must renew their certificates every three years. This training is also required of other members within the supply chain, including shippers and receivers. I hope also they’ll learn about the detailed labeling requirements for trailers and containers used to ship dangerous goods, which help first responders quickly identify the nature of the product on-board or within.

Maybe, in their research, they’ll come across the Emergency Response Guide – updated in 2016 – which is used by first responders in the event of an emergency, or the 24/7 emergency phone number that connects first responders with expert chemists and advisors, equipped to handle any situation.

The prudent response of the staffers tasked with conducting this research, would be to report back to City Council and Mayor Todd that the trucking industry has in place extremely tight controls on the transportation of dangerous goods. Limiting these shipments to sunny days would be impractical and unnecessary.

I’m reminded of a discussion I had with the safety manager of a large bulk trucking company that specialized in dangerous goods. He detailed the extensive process that goes in getting fuel from the oil patch to the gas station. When you consider the entire supply chain gasoline must travel through before reaching the gas station, the fact remains the greatest source of spills is when the clumsy motorist puts the gas into his or her car.

Spills involving tractor-trailers, of course, are of greater consequence and must be eliminated to the extent possible. But, as the statistics would support, we’re already doing a good job of preventing them and placing further restrictions on dangerous goods shipments would do little, if anything, to improve safety, while taking an enormous toll on the economy.

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James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 20 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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