Has fake news come to trucking?

by Joanne Ritchie

Nothing gets me more wound up than shocking headlines that misrepresent our industry. We’re already fighting mistaken public perception and negative stereotyping, much of it perpetrated by careless and ill-informed mainstream media reporting.

But when the alarming headlines are fed to the media by those who have access to the facts, it’s doubly disturbing.

In mid-June, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) teamed up with other law enforcement agencies for Operation Corridor, the annual 24-hour inspection blitz for trucks, and not surprisingly just about every media outlet, from national networks to small regional papers, picked up OPP’s press release and ran shocking headlines: “Transport trucks involved in one in five crashes on Ontario roads” and “Transport truck-related collisions take a toll on human life,” were two of the more popular renderings.

But the kicker? The OPP’s press release with its list of “deadly and dangerous” truck-related accident statistics was issued before the blitz even took place. Moreover, I’m having a hard time reconciling the OPP numbers with data published each year in the Ontario Road Safety Annual Report (ORSAR). I learned all about playing around with statistics at MBA school, but even allowing for subtle nuancing of words and phrases that the media rarely picks up (ie. fatal collisions vs. fatalities, OPP-patrolled roads vs. other roads in the province, crashes involving, not caused, by trucks), some things just don’t add up.

The OPP press release states that between 2012 and 2016, 330 people were killed in accidents involving heavy trucks, or as they put it, a transport truck was involved in one-fifth (or 20%) of all fatal collisions in Ontario.

According to ORSAR reports over the same five-year period, there were 2,589 people killed on Ontario roads. By my math, trucks were involved in 12.75% of those collisions, but hey, what’s a percentage point here or there? Even if the OPP stats are accurate, they could just as easily have said that 80% of all fatal collisions in Ontario did not involve transport trucks.

Another disturbing statement made by an OPP spokesperson is that recent data show a “significant number of collisions were caused by transport trucks in poor operating condition.” Again, according to the 2014 ORSAR report (the most recent final report available), only 4% of large trucks involved in fatal crashes had any apparent defect that may have contributed to the crash. The number was also 4% for 2013, and zero for 2012.

By OPP’s numbers, over the past three years, six people died and 37 people were injured in crashes involving transport trucks in poor operating condition. Given that over 69,000 vehicles were involved in fatal and personal injury crashes last year alone, I question the implication that the number of unsafe trucks on the road may be responsible for a “significant number” of crashes.

Don’t get me wrong. I applaud law enforcement for every errant truck driver they reprimand or educate, and every unsafe truck they take off the road. I’m also in favor of campaigns targeting local trucks that don’t usually take highways and thus bypass the scales, the trucks of local tradespeople, say, or dump truckers who don’t even consider themselves part of the “trucking industry.”

But when an OPP spokesperson gleefully announces that “We’re going to be targeting commercial motor vehicles in order to help keep our highways safe,” I despair. And thousands of people on Ontario’s roads who risk death or injury by 80% of vehicles other than trucks certainly aren’t getting their tax-dollars’ worth of protection.

There’s no question that in any collision between a truck and a smaller vehicle, the smaller one is usually the loser, so measures to lessen the number of trucks involved in accidents is not the problem. In fact, I’ve long been a proponent of giving law enforcement the resources they need to get the truly unsafe drivers and vehicles off the road.

But wouldn’t road safety be better served if the headlines told the real story? For example, in those fatalities “involving” large trucks, the truck driver is more likely to be driving properly than the other drivers (involved in the same crashes) more than 75% of the time.

Rather than fueling public angst and motorists’ fear of big trucks, more reliable media reporting could go a long way toward educating “four wheelers” and others on how to share the road with big trucks.


Joanne Ritchie is executive director of OBAC. Who’s faking it now? E-mail her at jritchie@obac.ca or call toll-free at 888-794-9990.

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  • I completely agree, we shouldn’t be sensationalizing collisions for TV shows and extra Twitter likes. We should be educating the general public with facts.

  • Newspapers will always distort the news to sensationalize a story. If someone runs into a truck and is killed you can bet the news will not read “car driver hits truck and is killed”, it will read “car driver killed in truck crash”. Which one would you read?

    Most people already hate us. We are big and intimidating with our physical size, slow when loaded, need more room to turn corners and stop. Yesterday I had some jerk lean on his horn as the light turned green on a single lane roadway as I began to accelerate. The fact I had a 22 ton load on my truck certainly didn’t help matters. He passed on double yellow lines illegally, blew his horn again and flipped me the bird. What a jerk. If I had done that with my truck and was seen, I more than likely would be in big trouble.

    Fact is, we can give the news media all the truth we want, they don’t have to print it. If only 5 fatal car/truck crashes took place and were not the truck driver’s fault, the news would say “heavy trucks involved in 100% of fatal crashes”.

    We just can’t win.

  • If only someone would make a pie chart showing the total number of highway fatalities, and segment out the vast majority that do not even involve a commercial vehicle, then further divide what part is not the commercial vehicle’s fault. That chart should be presented with the question of where spending, legislation, and enforcement should be aimed.

  • This news was a joke my contacts at the MTO stated the OPP are in this on their own. MTO was not part of this blitz according to what I was told by reliable contacts. Was the OPP just trying to make head lines. Why state the blitz for head lines just do it. I like to state a comment that was made by a past OPP Commissioner “Our job is traffic enforcement 24-7 not monthly flavour of the month media blitzes?

  • Fake news hasn’t just come to the trucking industry, it’s been around a long time. Take for example the headlines that follow a MTO / OPP insepction blitz where they announce that 40 or 50 percent of the trucks inspected had major safety defects and had their plates pulled. Gives the impression that you are taking your life in your hands heading out on the highway with all those unsafe trucks. What the story doesn’t tell you is that the police directing trucks to the inspection areas are specifically targeting older vehicles that have a high probability of having a defect. No new trucks here!! The end result which grabs the headlines is a very skewed sampling that probably represents less then one-half of one percent of all trucks travelling in a given area during the time of blitz. Not very fair to the indisty is it?