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Viewpoint: Another Black Eye

A spectacular truck crash on the nation's busiest highway shuts down traffic for hours. One of the trucking firms involved reportedly has a less than stellar safety record, prompting Ontario's new transportation minister to order a complete audit...


A spectacular truck crash on the nation’s busiest highway shuts down traffic for hours. One of the trucking firms involved reportedly has a less than stellar safety record, prompting Ontario’s new transportation minister to order a complete audit of the company and muse out loud about bringing in a tougher rating system for the province’s motor carriers.

The provincial trucking association responds in probably the only way it could: blaming the “bottom feeders” in the industry and their questionable practices. Crack down on them, it says – they’re not its members anyway.

Either way, the industry gets another black eye, despite its commendable safety record overall. And misses out on yet another opportunity to have a meaningful discussion about safety.

The indisputable fact is that the trucks operating on our highways are safer today. The stats bear that out, and numbers don’t lie. Over the years I’ve learned to trust their cold logic much more than the knee-jerk reactions of politicians. The industry is safer today. But that doesn’t mean it’s as safe as it could be.

One of the areas that could use a great deal of improvement is the prevention of truck rollovers. The industry is simply not doing enough – a curious approach considering the total bill for a rollover ranges from $100,000 to $500,000 and the fact most rollovers are preventable.

While there are several causes for truck rollovers – ranging from suspension, tire or load defects to the impact of some of the truck’s wheels coming into contact with a soft shoulder – the main cause by far is simply driving too fast for the conditions on any given corner.

Think about it – most of those extremely costly rollover accidents could be prevented by shaving about 20 km/h off the advisory speed (which is posted for cars, not trucks). Sounds simple enough but it’s darn near impossible in an atmosphere where speed policy seems to have taken a back seat to the efforts to recruit, to quote the concern of Mark Seymour, president of the Kriska Group of Companies, consistently one of the best managed companies in Canada and a perennial shipper’s favorite.

Let’s call a spade a spade. Drivers and owner/operators, given a choice, don’t want their fleets imposing speed limits on them. And fleets, hard up as they are for experienced drivers, have been giving in for years now. The problem is drivers accustomed to driving at higher speeds on the straight-aways will likely head into corners at higher speeds.

In fact, a study conducted by Advantage Fleet Services of B.C. examining 10 years of rollover data within the province’s interior, found that most of the rollovers were caused not by young inexperienced drivers but by seasoned veterans pushing the envelope.

Nor should the blame lie squarely with the people behind the wheel. As I mentioned, the experts believe most truck rollovers are preventable if drivers are equipped with the proper knowledge of the forces that cause them and/or the technology to stop them. Yet how many fleets are providing proper training in that regard? And how many carriers are making the financial investment in preventing rollovers by spec’ing roll stability systems as Challenger Motor Freight, another best managed company and perennial shippers favourite, has done?

Trucking safety would be much better served by a well-considered commitment to such issues than by the knee-jerk reactions to a crash of yet another politician.

– Lou Smyrlis can be reached at lou@TransportationMedia.ca or (416) 510-5142.


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