Truck News


Private Links: It’s About Context

The front page of the summer TIRF Bulletin highlights the results of their annual Road Safety Monitor, a public opinion poll that "tracks Canadian drivers' attitudes, perceptions, and practices..."

The front page of the summer TIRF Bulletin highlights the results of their annual Road Safety Monitor, a public opinion poll that “tracks Canadian drivers’ attitudes, perceptions, and practices…”

TIRF is the Traffic Injury Research Foundation, a charitable organization “devoted to reducing traffic related deaths and injuries.” Further, their Web site advises TIRF performs “original research into the causes of road crashes…”

It’s not a group with which I am very familiar but the feature story caught my eye. It pointed to three concerns that respondents have with commercial trucks. The report claims that:

70 per cent of Canadians believe that truck drivers who are tired by long hours of driving are a serious problem;

67 per cent of Canadians are very concerned about the use of drugs by truck drivers to help them stay awake; and

70 per cent of Canadians believe trucks that don’t meet legal maintenance standards are a serious problem.

These are alarming poll results if taken at face value, but I suggest that the real concern should be with the context in which they are presented.

When TIRF reports that a certain percentage of Canadians believe something, it would be more accurate to report that a percentage of those who bothered to respond to the poll believe it. I think TIRF folks would agree that those are distinctly different sample sizes.

As for the first of the concerns, I think we should all be worried about tired drivers, but not just truck drivers. Who has not heard someone describe with pride how he or she drove to Florida in 24 hours straight in order to get that vacation started? And those vacationers are not even professional drivers. Yet, while these non-professionals have no qualms about accumulating too many hours behind the wheel, they are quick to express their concerns about tired truck drivers.

As for the second concern, isn’t it just a trifle clichd to fan the flames of the “truckers on drugs” paranoia? Personally, I am concerned with the use of drugs and alcohol by anyone behind the wheel, and I don’t care how big the vehicle is. In Canada, a reported 27 per cent of fatally injured drivers tested in 2000 were over the legal BAC limit.

And finally, it seems ironic that drivers, many of whom don’t check the tire pressure on their cars from year to year, are concerned about the mechanical fitness of trucks. It’s probably reasonable to assume that many respondents are completely unaware of just how regulated the trucking industry is; of the restrictions on hours of service, vehicle maintenance and on weights and dimensions.

OK, it may be that this survey is well intentioned, but I believe the way it is reported is entirely misguided. TIRF has avoided taking a serious look at truck safety and the professionalism of truck drivers, opting instead for a tired approach that simply fosters the fear that many in the public have about big trucks.

Transport Canada’s report “Road Safety in Canada – 2000” offers a statistical analysis of vehicle collisions that puts trucking in context. In 2000, less than one per cent of fatal collisions involved a tractor-trailer, and less than 1.5 per cent of collisions with injuries involved a tractor-trailer. In fact, less than two per cent of total collisions in 2000 involved a tractor-trailer.

I dare say that none of the respondents have visited the Hall of Fame for Professional Drivers on the PMTC web site ( to see the incredible records of the real professionals in this industry.

In June, PMTC inducted four more such professionals with safe driving records that most automobile drivers can only dream about: consider James Patterson of Advantage Personnel, who drives for Sunbury Transport and has 35 years of accident free driving; or Robert McLam of Praxair Canada with 18 years; or Jean Louis Lavoie of Unique Personnel, driving for Hbc Logistics with three million miles; or Jim Packard of Air Liquide with 25,000 hours. These are only some of the professional truck drivers with whom I am happy to share the road.

And what about the fleets whose managers put so much effort into safety? How about the fleets that were honoured with the Private Fleet Safety Awards in 2004, Schneider Foods and Hensall District Co-operative? Not to mention all the previous winners of these awards.

Everyone should be concerned about tired drivers, the use of drugs and alcohol by drivers, and the maintenance of vehicles. Singling out the trucking community as a focus for these concerns is disingenuous at best.

I’m going to send a copy of this article to the Traffic Injury Research Foundation.

There are lots of opportunities to catch the trucking industry doing the right things, and I hope they’ll take the time to research that. n

-The Private Motor Truck Council of Canada is the only national association dedicated to the private trucking community. This column presents opinions on trucking issues from the perspective of private carriers. Your comments are invited and can be addressed to

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