24-hour scales aren’t the answer to safety

by Dave Holleman

For most Canadians, British Columbia is known for its natural beauty; the scenery that is fodder for postcards. Truck drivers might come to know it for its illogical approach to scale hours.

The province, in conjunction with the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC), is still planning to open more of its high-traffic weigh stations 24 hours a day. Where seven of the sites will officially extend their hours by this May, two more sites will be added to the list by the end of the year, with another two on stream in 2001.

The ICBC makes no apologizes when it claims that “truck safety” is its top safety concern. However, having stated that, ICBC and the province fail to realize that truck safety is more complicated than compliance with obscure regulations.

What are the factors that contribute to unsafe trucks? According to provincial statistics for 1997, the top causes of accidents that were the fault of truckers were: driving without due care, unsafe speed, weather conditions, following too closely and failing to yield the right of way. Of the 871 casualty collisions involving trucks, only 58 were linked to vehicle defects.

If a mere seven per cent of truck-related casualty collisions are linked to mechanical problems, 24-hour weigh stations are going to have very little effect on the safety of the province’s highways.

The ICBC likes to throw around figures that note 25 to 40 per cent of large vehicles are non-compliant, as based on the results of various Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance roadside inspections. This may indeed be the case, but ICBC fails to acknowledge that compliance does not equal safety.

Smaller vehicles cause the vast majority of truck accidents that occur in B.C.

If ICBC is truly committed to truck safety, 24-hour scales would be one of the last things on its agenda. For that matter, the mere existence of some of the province’s 34 fixed scales is already unreasonable and unsafe.

Any weigh station that requires fully loaded rigs to cross traffic to enter and exit a facility is a fatality waiting to happen. Examples of this are sites at Tete Jaune Cache, Haig, Quesel, Prince George South, and Dawson Creek, just to name a few.

If the ICBC were truly committed to truck safety, it wouldn’t ask truck traffic on the opposing side of the highway to enter.

Much of the traffic traveling though these areas is completely unaware of what trucks are required to do. When you mix loaded trucks trying to cross a busy road with a generally ignorant public, you have a recipe for disaster.

Along with improving the safety of the weigh stations themselves, ICBC would do well to implement a number of policies that would have a far greater bearing on truck safety than 24-hour weigh stations.

If ICBC were truly committed to truck safety, it would educate the motoring public about how to share the road with commercial vehicles. The ICBC RoadSense program can and should be used in this role, rather than in its current role as a propaganda tool for the government.

Truck safety doesn’t require statistical perfection when it comes to compliance. It takes a better-educated car driver with the proper attitude.

If ICBC were truly committed to truck safety, it would also work with its partner – the Department of Highways – in developing a more effective way to hold road contractors accountable for their actions or inactions. I personally have written the minster of transportation to complain about the state of the roads during and after inclement weather in certain areas of B.C. Truck safety doesn’t require millions of dollars to open scale houses. Truck safety takes the application of rather inexpensive dirt … when and where it is needed!

If ICBC is truly committed to truck safety it would also eliminate the toll on the Coquihalla Highway. This would eliminate a vast amount of commercial traffic on the Fraser Canyon Highway and re-direct it to a safer route, thus reducing the commercial vehicle accident rate.

If ICBC is truly committed to truck safety it, along with the Ministry of Highways, would seriously look at the location of brake checks. Why is there no brake check in either direction to deal with the six-to-seven per cent grades of Rogers Pass – a route that ends with a 50-km-h corner – when an unnecessary check sits just to the west of the route, in Albert Canyon? Grades of three and four per cent are the norm through that area.

A 24-hour weigh station will never be more than a law-harassing scheme to generate revenue. n

– Dave Holleman is an over-the-road owner/operator and monthly Truck News columnist.

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