The first time I watched an episode of Heavy Rescue: 401, I remember thinking to myself, this isn’t the image we need to project of trucking in Ontario.
If you’re not familiar with the show, it is a reality cable TV show focused on the 400-series highways in Southern Ontario and the challenges faced by tow truck operators, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), and the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) to keep the high volumes of traffic moving. It’s a program based on the philosophy of “if it bleeds it leads.” Truck wrecks are the focus, and it doesn’t paint commercial truck drivers in a favorable light. The show is trending towards becoming a media arm of the OPP and MTO commercial vehicle safety enforcement divisions.
As a commercial truck driver, I have a lot at stake as to how my profession is portrayed in the media, so my opinion about safety issues on the 400-series highways could be construed as anything but objective. I believe the majority of truck drivers are professionals that share the same safety objectives as the enforcement officers tasked with managing the high volumes of traffic on our roads. We’re on the same side. What I disagree with is the approach to how we can reduce and prevent truck crashes on Southern Ontario highways.
I’ve always advocated for more training and certification of professional drivers. This is the route we should be pursuing to address the root causes of poor driving actions within the trucking sector, in my opinion. The approach of the OPP and MTO is to hold individual drivers to account and Heavy Rescue: 401 is proving to be an effective approach in conveying that message to the public.
My wife has a sign that she hangs in the kitchen every Halloween. Under a skull and crossbones is the message, “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”
This is the same message truck drivers are receiving from enforcement agencies in Southern Ontario.
So my argument isn’t that truck drivers should not be held to account for their actions. What I support is ongoing training and recognition of our profession as a skilled trade. We have an attitude problem more than we have a lack of skills problem. We’re not facing up to that challenge.
If you do a search online of the most dangerous jobs you will find that truck driving is consistently in the top 10. It’s interesting that first responders don’t appear in that top 10 list, despite the dangerous nature of the work that they do. Why is that? I believe it is directly related to the quality and the quantity of the training first responders receive. First responders are directly involved in their training with attention being paid to their mental health as well as their physical well-being.
Now look at the quality and quantity of training professional truck drivers receive on an ongoing basis. It pales in comparison. Even within our own industry safety professionals in non-driving positions receive far more hands-on safety training than the drivers that operate the heavy equipment on the front line and deal with the anxiety directly related to life on the road.
There is much debate in the trucking media of late between the OPP and the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) when it comes to statistics and how they are interpreted. The OPP state that truck collisions are on the rise and truck drivers bear an increasing responsibility, the OTA argues that the percentage of truck drivers found at fault in collisions continue to decline. But statistics don’t resolve the root cause of collisions. The physical injuries, the post-traumatic stress issues, and the loss of life that result within the truck driving profession are not being addressed in the most effective manner.
Most truckers have impeccable safety records, love what they do, and spend weeks away from home keeping our economy humming. We’ve lost sight of that.
Al Goodhall has been a professional longhaul driver since 1998. He shares his experiences via his blog at www.truckingacross canada.blogspot.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @Al_Goodhall.