Keep Driving Safe, Truckers: Someone has to

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I was driving southbound on Bathurst St. in Toronto when I moved to pass a streetcar. As I passed, a woman yelled at me.

And by “yelled,” I mean legitimately lost her mind. Screamed and waved arms and swore. I thought, for a brief fraction of a second, that I had hit someone.

(Streetcars are pretty much only a Toronto thing — I love ’em, but man, navigating around them really tests your driving skills.)

I did a quick inventory: Were the streetcar’s doors closed? Yup. Was the streetcar still moving? Yes. Did I signal my lane change? Yes. Was I going the speed limit? Yup. Did she walk out into traffic? You betcha.

I’m a pedestrian, too. I often see my fellow streetcar passengers sauntering out into traffic before the vehicle comes to a complete stop, before the doors open. You should at least wait until the doors open to walk onto the road. (Even then: look both ways.)

Wanna know why people walk out onto the street when they are about to board a streetcar? They want a seat. You have to be first in line for when the doors open — especially during rush hour — otherwise you’re not getting a seat.

Recently, The Globe and Mail, CTV, and The Toronto Star have each come out with stories that are bringing attention to tractor-trailers in our city streets.

The British Columbia CTV news story has video of trucks running reds, etcetera. The Globe story picks up on Transport Canada ditching a study on side-guards, and the Star has a short piece on a young cyclist who was severely injured by a transport and is now trying to gather witnesses to plead her case that she was in the right.

The driver of the truck in the Star story isn’t getting charged, and he’s probably pretty torn up: “Bastien (the cyclist) went into shock and only remembers seeing the truck driver with his head in his hands looking on from the sidewalk,” says a line from the Star article.

The signal to noise ratio on the comments section of the Globe and Star stories is, surprisingly, not that bad. By “not that bad,” I mean nobody has asked “why don’t we just transport things by rail?” Yet.

You can go visit the Star and take part in a spirited conversation about who was in the right and who was in the wrong. Readers are even quoting the Highway Traffic Act. Good stuff, as far as comments on news stories go.

The comments over at the Globe, on the other hand, look to be mostly people blaming Stephen Harper for things. The story itself is asking why Transport Canada abandoned a study on side skirts that when “attached to trucks to reduce fuel costs, could also prevent cyclists from getting crushed under the big rigs.”

(Basically, the study looked at whether placing a solid object where there wasn’t one before would then stop or slow other objects… Kind of writes itself, doesn’t it?)

The Globe story raises the issue of mandating side-guards/skirts. That’s a discussion for another blog, but there is a 2010 National Research Council study titled Side Guards for Trucks and Trailers Phase 1: Background Investigation. Basically, yes, side-guards will prevent severe injury and death; stats from a UK study show it. But the researchers aren’t convinced that side-guards are the sole reason for the decrease in cyclist deaths. (Never mind side skirts.) You can read it here if you’re so inclined.

That doesn’t mean we should ignore any improvements we can make to the side of a tractor-trailer, but mandating side-guards/skirts? And mandating them when the trucking industry is already quickly adopting side-skirts simply for the fuel economy benefits is a waste of taxpayer money, and government engineers and researchers’ time.

Much better I think to put that money towards a massive road awareness campaign targeting everyone. Some of that money could go towards infrastructure improvements; I’m an advocate for more bike lanes in Toronto just as I’m an advocate for better shoulders and rest stops on Canadian highways.

The woman who rushed out towards the streetcar on Bathurst wasn’t thinking of all the other people using the road at that time: all that mattered was getting a seat.

Here’s the thing: she could’ve been driving. Or cycling. The vehicle doesn’t matter; the attitude and behaviour of each and every one of us is what matters. Truck versus car, truck versus cyclist, car versus cyclist, cyclist versus pedestrian — it’s all just noise, a distraction from the real issue often used by politicians to drum up support and make the daily paper.

At some point in our lives, we are a cyclist, a pedestrian, and a passenger vehicle driver, but not everybody is a truck driver. The general public doesn’t understand that the trucking industry’s goals are aligned with theirs: less fuel means more savings for trucking companies and less GHG emissions; a better safety record is also better for the company’s bottom line ( to be clear, crashes are expensive, yes; but also nobody wants people to die, nobody wants lives ruined).

The general public doesn’t understand the trucking industry, and it doesn’t look like they will anytime soon. In the meantime, keep being responsible, safe drivers. Someone has to be.

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John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking,, TruckTech, Transport Routier, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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