Observations from a recent road trip

Not surprisingly, I really enjoy driving and I wish I could spend less of my time chained to my desk and more time out there on the road. Last week I took the opportunity to drive to Ste-Therese, Quebec for FPInnovation’s VIP day, held in conjunction with its latest Energotest in nearby Blainville.
The event was held at the Paccar plant, and I’ll be reporting on some of FPInnovation’s latest projects shortly. They’ve got some interesting new tests on the go, specifically related to the fuel-saving potential of hybrid commercial vehicles.
Now, for a few observations from my trip.
1. LCVs: Saw my first four Ontario LCVs. I saw one SLH LCV headed each way on my way to Montreal and passed another of SLH’s LCVs on my way back home the next day. I passed a fourth as well, but the name of its owner escapes me. These trucks are easy to spot because of the signage on the back, and as I’ve often said before, they’re slow and predictable. I’m not surprised the public hasn’t risen up against the use of LCVs in Ontario, because they’re perfectly safe vehicles with which to share the road. The equipment was shiny and new and in each case was being driven by a true professional. It’s nice to see Ontario get on-board by finally allowing these productive and safe combinations. Yesterday at the Ajax/Pickering Board of Trade meeting, David Bradley told me about 18 LCVs have been approved in Ontario and that’ll slowly ramp up as more carriers complete the necessary driver training.
2. Public peeing: I’m not referring to truck drivers here. On a couple of occasions I passed motorists who shamelessly stopped alongside the 401, whipped out their um, units, and relieved themselves in full view of passing (with an ‘a’) vehicles. C’mon, people. No matter how much coffee you’ve had to drink, take a few minutes to pull off the highway and into one of the many roadside communities to use the proper facilities. I guess this is a result of the closure of most of Ontario’s service centres, which today is a hot topic of discussion thanks to an article in the Toronto Star. While the closure and reconstruction of these facilities was poorly planned and will no doubt drag on much longer than first expected, there’s still no excuse for taking a whizz on the shoulder of the highway.
3. Speed limiters: As I’ve written before, I’ve never understood the need for speed limiters but at the same time, I’ve often felt the safety arguments against their use were overstated. Now, I’m not so sure. My personal observations are highly unscientific, I’ll admit, but man there sure were a lot of elephant races. In many cases, four-wheelers responded as you’d expect, by trying to pass aggressively on the inside. I just sat back and watched the mayhem unfold. Yesterday during his speech at that same Ajax/Pickering Board of Trade meeting, Bradley said the “boogeyman” scenarios (ie. elephant races and NASCAR-style wrecks) feared by many truckers have not materialized. For the most part, he’s correct, at least when it comes to accidents.
But I would argue there are certainly more elephant races. Bradley also said in those instances, you have to question why the trucker in the left lane has pulled out to pass at that time in the first place? That’s a valid point – in many cases there was no need for the truck in the outside lane travelling at 105 km/h to be trying to pass another truck doing maybe 103. But in many other instances I observed, it was just the common courtesy of allowing merging vehicles to safely join the flow of traffic that left the trucker stuck in the fast lane, unable to get back to the right because other motorists wouldn’t give him the space to do so. Improving lane discipline is needed and will hopefully come in time as four-wheelers realize the limitations of trucks these days and truckers adapt to driving trucks locked at 105. Next time a trucker moves over to the left lane to allow you to merge onto the highway, maybe consider backing off to let him back in front?
At any rate, here are a few pictures I snaped. And please spare me the comments about taking pictures while driving – I had the camera at the ready and simply picked it up and clicked these pictures without so much as looking at the display screen. Distracting? Maybe. But no more so than taking a sip of coffee.
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Two trucks pull out to pass a slower moving truck. They didn’t do anything wrong, but completing the pass took a long time and cause frustration for other motorists. Note the brake lights on the white car. He dodged into the inside lane and aggressively tried to pass the trucks on the left to no avail.
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Again, the trucker in the ‘fast’ lane didn’t do anything wrong here when trying to pass the slower moving truck on an uphill grade. But without the extra juice, the move once again took a long time to complete.
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This is a case of a trucker perhaps being too nice for their own good. The driver in the left lane moved over to allow merging traffic to enter the highway and then was stuck out there alongside a truck travelling at about the same speed.

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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 james@newcom.ca or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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  • You speed limiter observations may not be deemed “scientific” but I beleive they are still very accurate. Next time drive down the 17 between Thunderbay and Ottawa. It’ll make the flat as a pancake 400 series look like a musical chair game at a senoir’s home. Put on some hills, single lanes and winding roads… SOMEONE’S GUNNA GET KILLED! Many have bought the flowers and are just waiting to find out who to send them to.
    I have a client who drives from Winnipeg to Montreal. He’s governed at 105 but gets “passed” by agressive drivers roaring past at 106. He either slams on the binders to let the crazy driver pass safely or risk a four headlight sinario for oncoming traffic. If someone comes around the corner who’s hitting the brakes? Maybe both, maybe neither as fractions of seconds go by each trying to read the others mind. I repeat… SOMEONE IS GOING TO GET KILLED! An arguement can be made that the OPP should “police” aggressive drivers… DAH!!! I say they will police it, but only AFTER the mountain of twisted metal and deisel fuel is cleaned up.
    In response to David Bradley’s comments about “why that trucker was in the left lane in the first place”. It’s obvious David Bradley dosen’t get paid by the mile.

  • i’ve driven hwy 17 many times and don’t know of a section that is posted ‘105 km’hr’ maybe if drivers sit at 100 they would have enough speed to get past someone who is driving a little slower on hills. i have owner ops who are driving now at 95-98 up north. they report to me better fuel mileage and less stress from being bumper to bumper with others doing 105.

  • James..your observations are right on the money. On a recent trip in a personal vehicle travelling the 401 from Windsor to Oakville I witnessed the passing maneuver of commercial vehicles in the Chatham area which took 14 kilometers to complete. I guess no further explanation is necessary.

  • Listen, why should heavy trucks be limited to 105? We, after all, are the professionals on the road…with the exception of the odd Jimmie Johnson wannabe. It would be interesting to know how many accidents are actually caused by drivers of heavy trucks. On a daily basis, I see more near collisions caused by driver inattentiveness in cars, pickups, and those soccer Dads & Moms in their damned SUV’s. Those drivers think they’re invincible because they have the biggest 4-wheelers on the road. Well, guess what folks? You’re still gonna lose when you take on a fully loaded semi! As a trucker, of course my greatest fear is being unable to avoid “Dad” who cut me off because he’s late for work, “Mom” who’s trying to beat everybody else to the Wal-Mart sale or “coach” hauling a van load of kids to their peewee hockey game.

  • After reading the observations of your trip and seeing the comments, I think everyone is forgetting something. The speed limit is 100kph not 105kph. The reason the limiters are set for 105kph is to allow 5km per hour to pass other trucks, and other phone equipped faces, that are not going 100kph. The truckers on the paid per mile basis have interpreted the 105 limiters to mean that is the max they can travel at all times and if a truck or another veicle is not going the full 105kph, they feel the need to pass that vehicle to maintain their imcome. I do believe there needs to be an awakening to the speed limmits all over Ontario. I see many sinners on Sunday morning get out of church and break the speed limit to get to their favorite restaurant. God damned hypocrits. You can’t justify breaking the speed limit for any reason and if you do, you are no better than the sinner on Sunday. Our Police have lost control of the highways as far as speeding is concerned. Legislation needs to permit fines of $1000.00 per 1 KM over the limit and no exceptions. The speed limits on the 400 series highways in Ontario needs to be raised to a minimum og 90KPH and a maximum of 105kph. In many cases, the roads (400 series highways)are not safe for speeds greater than 105kph. Let us all pull our heads out of our asses and wake up enough to realize that if we leave early enough for a destination, there is no need to speed. If we don’t discipline ourselves, someone else will and that opens the door for speed cameras and monitering of GPS units by OPP. It is time for everyone to smarten up a bit.