THUNDER BAY, Ont. - Northwestern Ontario's trucking community has banded together with the police and the government in a fight to make the region's highways safer.The Highway Safety Education Committ...
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: The safety group has produced educational place mats.
THUNDER BAY, Ont. – Northwestern Ontario’s trucking community has banded together with the police and the government in a fight to make the region’s highways safer.
The Highway Safety Education Committee was formed after John McKevitt, who operates the 135-tractor fleet McKevitt Transport, was awestruck by the number of deaths connected to heavy-vehicle traffic. A total of 16 people were killed in a three-and-a-half month stretch starting in October 1999.
“Back last winter, when all of these accidents started, (the company) had a number of drivers that had had some close calls with some of these other vehicles – mostly other trucks – and they started quitting, because they didn’t want to be out on the highway,” McKevitt says. Noting that it is particularly hard to get long-haul drivers since the area’s population is so small, McKevitt began networking.
“I started trying to get some people, like the law-enforcement people, to start cracking down on these irresponsible drivers,” he says. “I phoned them and said ‘What can we do?'”
One of the people McKevitt called was Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) traffic staff sergeant Bob Beatty. With several people in the trucking community, such as Trimac Bulk Systems’ safety manager Doug Cettina, as concerned as McKevitt, Beatty in February 2000 pushed to form the group.
As Beatty puts it, the committee’s mandate is, “through partnerships, to identify road-user safety issues, (and) develop and implement strategies to reduce the number of collisions, injuries and deaths on the highways of Northwestern Ontario.”
Today, its membership includes the Northern Ontario Log Haulers Association and the Thunder Bay District Health Unit, as well as a number of trucking companies.
“The whole goal of it is for education, and safety, (and) to reduce the number of fatalities and personal injury accidents in Northwestern Ontario,” explains Beatty.
Tom Marinis, a Ministry of Transportation official who is with the group, notes that all the fatalities have been due to the person behind the wheel, and not due to the state of the roads. “It’s a fact that it’s always the driver.”
The committee, “saw the need there to address the aggressive driver: the aggressive truck driver and the aggressive motorist,” says Marinis.
Nevertheless, Hwy.s 11 and 17, in contrast to the 400-series highways in southern Ontario, are no more than two lanes, and are “undivided for the most part,” admits Marinis.
The two run virtually uninterrupted from Marathon in the east to Manitoba in the west; it takes 10 hours to drive from one end to the other.
The highways’ remoteness contributes to the hazards drivers must watch out for, such as wild weather and moose.
Beatty isn’t distracted by the region’s size but rather is focused on the task at hand. “This is going to be done through education, and enforcement, a combination of both,” he says. “The committee is very active.”
The time and effort put into the two efforts – education and enforcement – have already led to payoffs.
On the education side, the committee has published a poster, several brochures, and has distributed 19,000 place mats to restaurants along the route.
As for the enforcement, the OPP has boosted patrols and last year stopped 14,253 trucks, handing out 2,959 charges and 1,783 warnings. Beatty notes that his officers laid over 20,000 provincial offences, including 13,000 speeding tickets, against four-wheelers.
Anticipating a backlash, Beatty adds that many of the people complaining about the aggressive road-users, including truck drivers, are truckers themselves.
The strongest indicator of the group’s success – the number of fatalities – also points to success. Deaths involving commercial vehicles have declined to fewer than a dozen so far this winter.
McKevitt is happy to see that many of the drivers who quit the highways to work in the logging industry are starting to return to long hauling.
The committee is now mapping out a spring campaign, too. n