Editorial Comment: Seeking fair media coverage

by James Menzies

It’s not the type of headline you like to wake up to: Errant tire strikes car, killing woman.

Yet, unfortunately, that’s exactly what was splashed across a page of a recent issue of the Globe and Mail.

It brings back memories of a rash of wheel-off incidents in the 1990s that had the industry villainized in the press and the public gripping the steering wheel in fear every time a truck drove past them on the highway.

The wheel-off incidents that made front page news in Ontario between 1995 and 1998 were arguably the worst PR the trucking industry has ever endured. It would be catastrophic if history were to repeat itself but there’s reason to believe the latest case – involving a truck from Ajax – was an isolated incident.

In the mid- to late-90s, in the wake of several wheel-off incidents, the public demanded a crackdown on the trucking industry – and a crackdown they got. The province of Ontario required anyone performing tire work to become licensed, mandated the use of torque wrenches and ramped up scale house inspections.

The change that had the most teeth, however, was the introduction of absolute liability legislation which made it impossible for truck owners to defend themselves in the event of a wheel-off situation – even if steps were taken to avoid the wheel-off incident in the first place.

Simply put, if a wheel should fall off your truck, you will be punished severely, with fines of up to $50,000 and criminal charges a very real possibility. In a 2002 interview with sister publication Canadian Transportation and Logistics, then Transport Minister Norm Sterling said the absolute liability law was proving successful.

“We’ve had a 70% improvement in accidents and fatalities since we introduced the legislation. But more importantly what happened, and the late (former Transportation Minister) Al Palladini has to take credit for this, we worked very closely with the trucking industry and the overall improvement of the industry has been marked in terms of the safety record they have helped us establish,” Sterling told editorial director Lou Smyrlis at the time.

Indeed, the Ontario trucking industry has a safety record to be proud of. Ontario has among the safest highways in North America and only 15% of accidents on Ontario roads involve commercial vehicles (of all types).

According to the most recent Ontario Road Safety Annual Report (ORSAR), the number of fatalities per 100,000 large truck registrations in Ontario continued to decline.

Since 1990, there’s been a 20% decline in fatalities despite a 50% increase in large truck registrations.

The recent ORSAR report received little coverage in the mainstream media. Perhaps the old newspaper adage “If it bleeds, it leads” holds true today.

Let’s hope the bleeding stops soon and also that the industry gets recognized for its accomplishments and not just in those rare instances when the wheels go flying.

James Menzies can be reached by phone at (416) 510-6896 or by e-mail at jmenzies@trucknews.com.

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