Richard Deschamps says it’s time for the carnage on Ontario Highway 11/17 to come to an end, and as of Thursday morning more than 7,500 people agree with him.
The truck driver with EGL Transport is behind an online petition, Working Together for a Better and Safer Highway, launched shortly after an acquaintance was killed in a head-on collision along Highway 102, which intersects with the route.
Deschamps has seen plenty of close calls over his 28 years behind the wheel, even during his daily work running between Montreal and the West Coast. He’s also viewed plenty of wreckage in the pictures shared through the Hwy 11/17 Kills People group on Facebook, which itself has 11,000 members.
But he wants to do more than watch from the sidelines.
“I just started to get tired of statistics – friends dying, near misses, not sure if I’m going to make it home,” Deschamps told trucknews.com, referring to why he established the petition with the support of the Facebook group. “They [politicians] need to wake up and stop the carnage … It’s really a cry from the heart.”
“Enough with the deaths enough with these inexperienced, dangerous and unqualified drivers not respecting basic rules of our roads, enough with the carnage, enough with our safety being put in jeopardy every single time we use highway 11/17, enough with the government not taking these issues seriously, they need to take responsibility for these deadly actions,” a preamble to the petition says.
“Since they don’t think northern Ontario exist, let’s take a stand so they will have no choice but to address these important issues.”
“They need to wake up and stop the carnage.”– Richard Deschamps
This isn’t the first time that the highway has drawn special attention. Mushkegowuk-James Bay MPP Guy Bourgouin has been championing the Making Northern Ontario Highways Safer Act. This would classify Highway 11/17 as a Class 1 highway, requiring it to be cleared down to the pavement and from edge to edge within eight hours after a snowfall. Currently those standards are limited to 400 Series highways and the QEW, found further south.
But Deschamps’ concerns focus more on the state of driver training and licensing than the highway itself. He comes from a family of truck drivers and loves the job. But he believes too many inexperienced drivers are being sent out on their own with little experience at the wheel of heavy equipment.
“There’s untrained drivers, people who’ve never been out west out in the mountains, just sent on their own,” he said. A month ago, he spoke to one truck driver who was running the route on his own even though he had never seen snow before. “When I started, that would never happen.”
“Maybe screw down on the training, the companies that are hiring unqualified and untrained drivers and sending them on their own,” Deschamps said, noting that he has also served as an instructor during his career.
He’s not entirely convinced that politicians have been listening. Most of the responses he’s seen are generic, like they were simply filling in the blanks. But some MPPs appear more willing to listen as the online petition gains supporters.
“We’re not going to let this go,” he said, referring to members of the Facebook group.
“I hope all of Northern Ontario gets into this. We need to get together for better, safer highways.”
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