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Bad Actors

QUEBEC CITY, Que. - 'Twas two nights before this Christmas past in Quebec City. A fully-loaded snow removal truck steamed full tilt through a red light andT-boned a cop car, injuring two officers. Les...

QUEBEC CITY, Que. –‘Twas two nights before this Christmas past in Quebec City. A fully-loaded snow removal truck steamed full tilt through a red light andT-boned a cop car, injuring two officers. Less than two weeks before that, a snow removal truck flattened a woman outside a pizza joint.

“Snow removal trucks don’t respect the highway code,” declares carrier enforcement officer Arnold Yetman, based in Montreal-West-Laval. He works for Controle routier Quebec, whose officers have their fingers on the pulse of this province’s highway code enforcement and safety.

Mind you, some people, with fantasies of immortality or pedestrian rights (this is Montreal, after all) wander into the streets without looking. Some car drivers tear around like fools. “You see three snow removal vehicles travelling abreast and a car trying to squeeze by. This is a good way to get crushed,” Yetman says.

No-one is saying that all snow removal operators are criminals, rogues and bores. But what’s with the speed (both kinds), burned red lights, shovel attacks, squashed pedestrians, expired licences, overweight loads and the recently-reported concern that moonlighting city employees are blowing their hours-of-service?

Controle routier Quebec only got the tip-off about this last shenanigan early last December: Following the deaths of three pedestrians who tangled with snow removal trucks in Montreal in February 2009, and more accidents elsewhere, the agency had called a meeting of representatives of breakaway Montreal Island cities (aka boroughs) to discuss safety issues.

“It was just before the first big snowstorm,” recalls Yetman. “We had already spoken with the City of Montreal. For the first time, we heard a lot of stories about city employees (moonlighting). The representatives just brought it up, saying things like, ‘My employee leaves work and then I see him two hours later driving snow to the city dump. I don’t want him coming back the next day and having an accident with our heavy vehicle. What can we do about this?'”

According to Yetman, lots of city employees are moonlighting for independent snow removal companies and possibly exceeding their hours-of-service.

“We told the cities that if they have suspicions, all they have to do is give us the name of the driver and the company. We can go into the company and ask for his file, verify the number of hours, go back to the city and use its files to calculate the total hours. We can go into any transportation company without a warrant and ask for documentation. They can’t refuse.”

This is just the latest in a longish list of naughtiness and nastiness by some snow removal companies, drivers and even over-eager city employees. City employees on the ground have been known to instruct snow blower operators to overfill trucks. Some companies want to overload their rigs because they are on fixed-rate contracts. The more they pile on, the faster they finish.

When a carrier enforcement officer finds that a truck is overweight (in an early-January blitz, for example, Controle routier Quebec had portable scales on-hand at snow dump sites) it is going nowhere until enough snow is removed to make it legal.

“The drivers yell at us. A lot of the time the company won’t send a loader to transfer the load to another truck, so the driver has to do it by hand,” Yetman says.

Snow removal companies under contract to cities do not need special permits, but private operators, say for homes and shopping malls, do.

“New companies, especially, tend not to get special permits. They hate us because we not only fine them, but we take their vehicles off the road until they get the special permits and auxiliary equipment,” Yetman says.

Getting stopped for one thing can lead to other embarrassing discoveries, such as the odd driver who is a wanted criminal, or holds a suspended driver’s licence. “Woops! We seize your vehicle for 30 days,” Yetman says.

Some drivers use drugs to keep them alert, if not necessarily competent to drive. A year or so ago a company owner, or boss, cranked because Controle routier Quebec stopped one of his drivers for an infraction, attacked Yetman with a shovel.

“We subdued and cuffed him. He had a bag of speed on him, and was probably himself on speed. The quantity seemed to be more than for personal use. He was probably supplying his drivers,” Yetman relates.

For companies unsure of the rules, Yetman strongly suggests they bypass the regular police and go directly to Controle routier Quebec for advice.

“We are the one agency that combines all the laws and safety together. We know everything. We are the best person to speak to when you want to be within the law, when putting a vehicle on the road.”

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