TORONTO, Ont. – Immersed in heavy traffic and travelling at triple digit speeds, it can be enough of a task to concentrate on all the vehicles on the ground.
Add in the winter hazard of snow and ice flying off of other vehicles on the road and highway travel can prove to be a daunting task.
“It’s a big problem. I’ve been at this for 29 years now and we see it all the time,” said Sgt. Cam Woolley with the Ontario Provincial Police. “This time of year we get calls every day, especially when we get in these freeze-thaw conditions.”
Some of those calls generate mainstream media interest, especially when a motorist is injured and a tractor-trailer is involved.
“When there’s an injury it gets media interest and there’s almost one every week,” acknowledged Woolley.
But truckers are not the only ones on the highway causing the problem.
“We have problems with ice falling off all sizes of vehicles. The difference is car drivers don’t have an excuse,” added Woolley. “A car driving along launching ‘ice missiles’ – and I’m not trying to be funny here, it’s an insurance term – is considered to be driving in an unsafe condition and it gives me the authority to stop them. So we implore motorists to do what they can to solve the situation.”
Unfortunately for truckers it is a lot harder to reach the top of a trailer than it is to brush off the top of a car; and if the weather conditions are unpleasant there is no easy solution.
“The age-old problem is that there isn’t a simple solution,” said Woolley. “When the truck or the weather heats up and the snow begins to melt that’s when it creates problems. Trailers are susceptible because they’re often left outside overnight and can have snow buildup.”
But since it’s unlawful for a driver to get up on top of the roof of a trailer to clear off winter buildup, it creates a problem with seemingly no real solution.
As well, there are no statistics kept on how often snow and ice debris causes accidents because it falls under the same category as load securement debris – yet is not enforced under load securement laws.
“There’s no practical solution for truck drivers,” noted Woolley. “The owner might be civilly liable for any damage to another vehicle. But that’s not enforced by police, that’s a civil claim.”
Woolley noted that it’s particularly a problem in the Toronto area due to the high volume of traffic and the OPP experience a constant line of people coming in and complaining about it.
“It’s a bit of a conundrum and something we find every year. There has been a lot of discussion about it because it’s a big problem,” he said. “What we tell motorists is that stopping distances are greatly increased in the winter. It’s another reason to keep extra room between a car or truck in front of you.”
For the trucker though, the problem of keeping a trailer clear of debris is especially tough when out on the road.
“Most of the big carriers have their own cleaning facilities or contract cleaners who would clean the sides and tops of trailers,” commented Mayne Root, executive director with the Alberta Motor Transport Association. “But if you’re out on the road, there’s no place to do that. A lot of times these guys can’t even see if there is snow or ice on top of their trailers because there’s no way for them to get up there.”
Although the number of accidents due to snow and ice debris coming off the tops of trailers is considerably lower out on the Prairies due to the drier winter conditions, the issue is just as unclear.
“There’s nothing specific in the laws that talk about snow and ice debris,” explained Wes Roth, CVSA programs coordinator with Alberta Infrastructure and Transportation’s Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Branch. “The securement standard calls cargo anything that can be carried by a vehicle – as a stretch it could be applied.”
But Roth also added there were far too many variables involved to say flat out to a driver that there can be no accumulation.
“If he’s on the side of the road and it snows overnight, it wouldn’t be expected for a driver to get up on the roof,” he said.
Despite snow and ice debris falling into a gray-area of the law, it still remains a problem in many regions of Canada. But Roth noted there might already be a solution out there.
“I believe there are some pullouts in Quebec with the proper facilities for drivers to remove snow, like catwalks and such,” he said. “I believe they have similar setups in New Brunswick; but it’s a different type of snow out there.”
“The industry should think of some ways to solve the problem. I’ve seen some of the drivers up North, the log drivers use arch-brushes,” added Woolley. “Truckers have a really fragile reputation because there are the pros and then there’s the other guys out there. It’s in the best interest of the industry to work towards a solution.”