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Private Links: Celebrations marred by tragedy

When I was preparing to write this column, my plan was to celebrate the accomplishments of three outstanding truck drivers. The three, Leonard Long of Kraft Foods, Henry Holland of Advantage Personnel...

Bruce Richards

Bruce Richards

When I was preparing to write this column, my plan was to celebrate the accomplishments of three outstanding truck drivers. The three, Leonard Long of Kraft Foods, Henry Holland of Advantage Personnel driving for Hbc Logistics, and Carl Stone of Advantage Personnel driving for J&F Trucking have accumulated over 80 years of accident-free driving of commercial trucks, negotiating open highways and crowded city traffic in the most professional manner possible.

Lenny, Henry, and Carl were all recognized for their remarkable driving records by being inducted to the PMTC/Shaw Tracking Hall of Fame for Professional Drivers in June. Their names now reside alongside those of the other professionals who have achieved this honour and recognition, testimony to the ability and conscientiousness of those who make a living driving for PMTC member fleets.

However, as I was preparing the column, something truly tragic took place on a highway north of Toronto that overshadowed those celebrations. Tragic and senseless; even those words cannot adequately describe this event or the emotion that has surfaced in the trucking community as a result.

Professional truck driver, David Virgoe, was killed as the result of what police describe as yet another incidence of high-powered cars racing on the highway.

Mainstream media reported that two cars driving at close to 200 km/h were observed by a police officer. Eyewitnesses stated that at least one of these cars cut off Mr. Virgoe’s truck, causing him to hit the guardrail separating north from southbound lanes of the highway. By all reports Mr. Virgoe then took evasive action that saved the lives of at least two people and possibly more, but ended with the loss of his own life. The two car drivers face a host of serious charges, but that is little consolation to Mr. Virgoe’s family or to any other road user. Particularly when a recent conviction for road racing that caused the death of a Toronto taxi driver resulted in only a sentence of 12 months house arrest and some community service for the two racers involved.

Mr. Virgoe’s employer reported that he received numerous safe driving awards during his 17 years with the company. He was well-liked and considered to be an excellent driver. He was a professional driver who was simply going about his business.

Street racing has become a significant threat to the safety of everyone on the road. York region police report having charged more than 550 drivers with street racing during a recent six-week crackdown. That is clear evidence that this has become an epidemic that demands prompt action. Just what is it that causes people to act in such a careless and irresponsible manner when they get behind the wheel of a powerful automobile?

There are undoubtedly many different answers to that puzzle, but putting a young person behind the wheel of a powerful car certainly creates the potential for disaster.

We’re encouraged by the automakers’ own advertising to use that power. A short period in front of the television will show any number of automobiles being trumpeted for their power. Scenes of fast-paced cars accompanied by small-font subtitles indicating “professional driver on closed track” dominate the carmakers’ ads. Even the ad for the entry level Nissan Sentra shows it careening around a corner and screeching to a halt.

But is the advertising the sole cause of street racing? That’s a little like blaming the lyrics of a Marilyn Manson song when some high school kids let loose with guns they shouldn’t have had in the first place.

There are any number of cars on the road that can attain speeds of 200 km/h or more.

We need to question why any car built for regular highway use needs to have that kind of potential. If ever there was an opportunity for auto manufacturers to demonstrate some responsibility this may well be it. Simply cutting the horsepower would reduce the opportunity to speed with the added bonus of reducing fuel consumption – two unimpeachable results.

The media influences all of us to some degree or other, but most of us learn to control urges to act out in the extreme. For those that don’t control those urges we have laws and punishment. But those laws and the threat of punishment are pretty lame if not accompanied by enforcement. The police appear to be overwhelmed in this regard. There are too many roads and too few resources available to adequately address street racing and other rules of the road.

If government is sincere about eradicating the street racing phenomena it needs to step up and provide the police with the resources needed to make it happen. Then the courts need to deal with transgressors in a way that sends a clear message to other would-be racers.

And the automakers need to do their part in building safe and responsible vehicles. Then professionals like Mr. Virgoe and the rest of the road users will be able to go about their business in safety.

– The Private Motor Truck Council is the only national association dedicated to the private trucking community. Your comments or questions can be addressed to

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