Wheel separations have made their way back into prominence in media coverage lately, bringing back not-so-fond memories of the wheel separation epidemic in Ontario in the mid- to late-90s, which resulted in numerous crashes, leading to injuries, and in far too many cases, death. In those days it seemed a wheel separation was reported in the media almost daily.
The recent media coverage has been, in part, a result of a tragic incident near London, Ont. that occurred on Nov. 6, in which a separated wheel went over the median, slammed into the driver’s side of a car and killed a driver heading in the other direction.
Six days after this, in close to the same location, another wheel separated and went over the median, striking a van carrying two adults and four children. The van was destroyed, but luckily everyone survived. Both of these incidents were covered by the London Free Press.
In 1997, 215 wheel-off incidents were reported to the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario (MTO). To help combat this problem, laws were changed drastically, with increased fines and an absolute liability law put in place, meaning no defence could be offered if a wheel separation charge was laid. The change in laws, in part, played a role in reducing wheel separations and by 2010, reported wheel separations were reduced to 47.
Since 2010, these numbers have increased steadily, to 56 in 2011, 97 in 2012, 147 in 2013, 148 in 2014, and 82 up to the end of October of 2015. These recent tragedies, and an increase in reported wheel separations, have led the Ontario Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca to ask his Ministry to report back to him on suggestions to improve safety.
Have wheel separations really increased? When we look at the numbers, there is no denying the number of reported wheel separations have increased, but do we really think the trucking industry has gone back to the days of the mid-90s when it comes to proper wheel installation, maintenance and inspection?
Strides have been made in technology, and our knowledge as a whole as to proper installation, maintenance and inspections has increased dramatically since the 90s. I also believe the majority of the companies in the industry do a much better job of overseeing and ensuring proper procedures and inspections are carried out.
With this being said, you may be asking, what gives with the increase in numbers? One thing that may explain some of the increase in reports, is the way in which the wheel separations themselves are reported. In 2012, the MTO went to an electronic reporting procedure, transitioning from the previous paper reporting format. This made the reporting process much simpler for the OPP, who report the majority of the wheel-offs to the Ministry. It is likely more than coincidence that the reported numbers increased with the new reporting system. I believe the improvement in ease of reporting is a good thing, as in order to remedy our problems, we need to ensure we have as much accurate data as possible. Whether we believe wheel separations have increased or not, however, in reality does not change the fact that any wheel separation is a bad thing and any serious injury or death as a result is a terrible tragedy. We as an industry must do everything we can to prevent this.
We all need to do our part, especially in the winter months. Statistics have shown that the number of wheel separations increases during the months of January and February. There are likely a number of reasons for this, ranging from materials becoming more brittle in cold weather, to roads becoming rougher with more potholes, cracks, snow build-up, etc., which increases the strain put on the wheels, as well as possible shortcuts being taken on trip inspections by some operators during bad weather. In order to ensure you, your company, and the travelling public are all protected and as safe as possible, here a few simple steps to reduce the chances that you are involved in a wheel-off:
• Ensure you stress to your drivers that a thorough trip inspection needs to be completed daily – and perhaps even more so during the winter – as the harsh conditions increase the chance of defects. Ensure drivers are fully trained on proper inspection procedures and know what they should be looking for and reporting.
• Ensure you have a preventive maintenance program that has your equipment going through a shop to be checked over by licensed technicians on a regular basis. No matter how thorough an inspection your drivers do, there are just some things they can’t see.
• Have a procedure in place to ensure your shops, whether internal or third-party, communicate to your drivers and operations personnel when a wheel has been removed, and therefore must have the lugnuts re-torqued. (A best practice is to ensure lugnuts are re-torqued within 100 kms). Ensure you have a follow-up system in place to make sure the re-torque was done as required. The procedure must be communicated to all parties involved to ensure compliance.
• Ensure your technicians are fully trained and kept current on proper wheel installation procedures, and certified to do wheel installations. If you work with third-party facilities, make sure their technicians are certified to work on wheel installations. Never assume.
This is just a short sample of a few simple things you can do, and is by no means exhaustive. Check with regulations to ensure all procedures are being followed.
Mike Millian is president of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada, the only national association that represents the views and interests of the private fleet industry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.