Painted with the same brush

by Mike Millian

Recently, the mainstream news has been littered with stories about unsafe transport operators. Even OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes has taken aim at truckers.

A series of fatal incidents lately involving transport trucks on 400-series highways in Ontario has been terrible, and the scene north of Barrie on Hwy. 400
Oct. 31 was especially horrific. It involved 14 vehicles – three of which were transport trucks – and the death of three people, at least one of whom was a truck driver.

My thoughts are with the families who lost loved ones, and whose lives have been altered forever by these tragic events. A large portion of the media was quick to paint the entire trucking industry and its drivers in the most negative light possible.

I fielded three calls myself that day from media outlets who wanted to discuss the apparent epidemic of inattentive truck drivers, drivers under undue pressure and unrealistic delivery timelines, who were no doubt operating beyond hours-of-service limits and being improperly trained. I dispelled these myths at every turn, and let them know how truly safe the industry is.

I explained the policies, procedures, and oversight that most companies in the industry already have in place. I expect these types of opinions and remarks from some members of the general media; it has been proven over the years that this type of reporting sells, and scaring the public gets attention.

As an industry, we have been dealing with this negativity for years. What particularly upset me on this occasion, however, was that these opinions and fear were being fed to the media by comments from the OPP itself. In the last month, this has become an all too common theme.

The constant railing on the transport industry by OPP Commissioner Hawkes, in my view, is reckless, uncalled for, and not helping matters. Comments calling trucks “missiles on wheels,” and putting commercial drivers “on notice for being inattentive while behind the wheel,” and stating, “the trucking industry should take a close look at the way they conduct their business,” are not helping.

These types of statements are irresponsible and fear mongering, and are not backed up by statistics. We need to work together to solve road safety issues, not point fingers and blame one specific sector, especially when statistics show that the professional truck operator is at fault in less than 30% of incidents involving heavy trucks.

In 2016, there were 483 fatalities as a result of collisions in Ontario, 96 of these fatalities (20%) involved large trucks. In 2015, the numbers were 503 fatalities, 95 of which involved large trucks, or 19%. In 2014, there were 517 fatalities and 109 of these involved large trucks, or 21%. In the same time frame, licensed drivers have increased from 9.7 million in 2014 to 9.9 million in 2016.

These numbers indicate we are showing improvement when placed in context. So far, this year, with 70 fatalities involving large truck collisions as of the end of October, according to OPP figures, we are on pace for roughly the same numbers, and actually a slight improvement.

This does not appear to be an epidemic spiraling out of control, as claimed. With all this being said, let me be clear, one fatality on a roadway as a result of a collision is one too many. Our industry and our drivers share their workplace with the public.

As an industry, we are committed to doing whatever we can to ensure we reduce the number of collisions our trucks are involved in, and their severity. We realize distracted driving is an issue for the trucking industry, as it is for society as a whole.

Speeding in construction zones on 400-series highways is also a huge issue for all types of vehicles. I applaud the Province of Ontario’s recent announcement of plans to increase penalties for distracted driving.

No matter what the penalties are, however, unless we have increased enforcement, they will have limited effect. If we hope to change behaviors, we need to increase enforcement, increase enforcement visibility, charge those that are guilty, and work with the industry and public on education.

We want to work together, we understand we need to do what we can to make our roads even safer, however let’s not lump the entire industry into one bucket.

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