CHILLIWACK, B. C. - It is one of the most scenic highways in Canada, and spans a spectacular 192 kilometres. The Fraser Canyon, otherwise known as Highway 1 -or the Trans- Canada Highway -follows the ...
CHILLIWACK, B. C. –It is one of the most scenic highways in Canada, and spans a spectacular 192 kilometres. The Fraser Canyon, otherwise known as Highway 1 -or the Trans- Canada Highway -follows the Fraser and Thompson Rivers from Hope to Spences Bridge.
This narrow highway built on the edge of a mountain, requires a perceptive response to challenging road conditions, including steep hills and tight curves, a scenario that gets even more treacherous in winter. It’s not an ideal terrain for commercial trucking, especially for drivers who are used to the flat, wide open spaces of the prairies.
At one time, the Fraser Canyon had the highest number of truck-related incidents in the province, resulting in serious injury and fatality. Frequent trucking incidents in the Fraser Canyon caused provincial agencies to take notice.
To initially address the problem, the Fraser Canyon Traffic Safety Committee was formed in 1997, to act as an advisory group to deal with safe transportation along the corridor. As a result, this group discovered that the most significant cause of serious and fatal collisions was aggressive driving and speed. Subsequently, the Fraser Canyon Watch program was established in 2000, which was modeled after other successful “record and report” programs in B. C. The program developed partnerships with police, local and provincial governments, the Insurance Corporation of B. C. (ICBC), businesses and local communities.
Early in 2004, the committee noted an increase in the crash rate, and created the Fraser Canyon Truck Crash Review Committee (FCTCRC) to review a statistical timeline of serious injury and fatality-related accidents in the canyon, that was directly related to truck incidents.
“The collisions with commercial vehicles involved had gone up,” explains Mike Weightman, road safety coordinator, ICBC Lower Mainland Region, (Agassiz, Harrison Hot Springs, Chilliwack, Hope and Boston Bar), who adds that 40% of the 3,000 vehicles a day that travelled the corridor were commercial vehicles.
The new FCTCRC committee discovered that the majority of truck accidents shared similar traits: the trucks were fully loaded with finished lumber products, headed southbound, and speeding. It was a lethal combination according to Weightman.
“When you’ve got that combination of fully loaded; southbound; downhill; entering into the curves; (and) if they’re not doing the advisory speeds -you’re in terrific trouble. And that’s what was happening. They were too fast into the curves and the rollover threshold is very minimal.”
Based on a ‘three-E’ approach (engineering, education and enforcement) Weightman indicates that various actions were taken by the FCTSC and the review committee, to make the highway safer. ICBC funded shoulder rumble strips, and other road improvements including roadside delineation, roadside barricades, and overhead rollover signs. The RCMP increased enforcement, focusing on speed and aggressive driving in critical areas with a collision history. The Commercial Vehicle Safety and Enforcement Branch scheduled more vehicle safety checks. The Ministry of Transportation and Highways (MoTH) improved advisory signs, and upgraded the road. Work- SafeBC coordinated an awareness and education campaign.
However, Weightman credits police enforcement as the most successful initiative.
“We knew where the collisions were occurring, so the police from both regions made a commitment to be in the right place at the right time, to get the vehicles slowed down before they got to those critical curves in the highway,” says Weightman, of incidents that were localized in two areas. “It seemed like all the fatalities were south of Boston Bar and all the injuries were in the north end of the canyon, like Cache Creek to the Lytton area.”
Canada’s official first truck safety corridor was considered initially successful, but the program remains “enforcement-reliant,” according to the ICBC road safety coordinator.
“We had massive reductions, but then it started to go up again. We went from 2004-2006 with no commercial vehicle-involved fatalities, and the lowest year for injuries came in 2005. Then it started going up in 2006, and 2007 had a big increase – just a couple of fatalities, but still I monitor them pretty closely. We had one fatal in 2006 and two in 2007.”
The greatest impression on the trucking industry, according to Weightman, is what he refers to as the “deterrent factor,” or visible enforcement officials posted along the safety corridor, a strategy that has to be continually promoted amongst the enforcement agencies that patrol the area.
“It’s not self-sufficient and somebody has to keep monitoring it.”
The long-term plan is to use the canyon as a model for other truck safety corridors in the province, according to WorkSafeBC, which believes that implementing initiatives such as this will have a direct impact on reducing serious injuries and deaths for all B. C. highways.
The partnership has already identified other routes for safety improvements similar to those implemented on the Fraser Canyon, one being the Hope-Princeton route, or Hwy. 3.
It’s not necessarily a commercial route, but it’s a popular recreational destination in the summer months, a roadway that suffers from similar topography, although not to the same degree as the Fraser Canyon.
“Speed was over-represented at the curves in the road, and so we looked at the injury and fatal crash rate, and again we invested in a partnership with (MoTH) to improve the highway at certain locations, and the police committed to the enforcement at the key times,” says Weightman. “With that type of emphasis, we were able to reduce the fatal and injury crash rate in that corridor, as well.”
Weightman has discussed the potential for safety corridors with other groups, such as the truck crash safety groups in Williams Lake.
While areas from the Fraser Canyon suffer from extreme weather conditions, it’s not the rain, the fog, or winter snow and ice that caused the greatest number of incidents that result in injuries or fatals, for truck drivers.
“The data showed us that clear dry days are when most of that was happening,” says Weightman, who attributes it to aggressive driving on a clear day as well as frustration over delays caused by highway construction. “People are pushing the envelope,” he says of a time constraint that can cause drivers to become impatient, especially when a delivery deadline is held up by rock scaling, repaving, and other summer road work.
“So if there is a 10-, 30-, 40-minute delay, well these guys are on the clock to try and get their stuff to the depot in Vancouver, and that’s when they’re pushing the envelope, and they feel more confident on the dry roads.”
Now that the Coquihalla Highway toll has been removed by the provincial government in the last few months, Weightman indicates that commercial truck traffic volume has increased. But whether the Fraser Canyon commercial truck traffic has decreased, due to truckers favouring the more direct Coquihalla Highway, Weightman couldn’t say at this point. •