Stay right, chain up, slow down in B.C.

The B.C. government is banning commercial trucks from the left lane on Snowshed Hill, reducing speed limits, and beefing up the rules on tire chains – all in the name of safety.

KAMLOOPS, B.C. — Bad weather has been known to wreak havoc on B.C. Coquihalla Highway’s Snowshed Hill, but the province hopes to keep traffic flowing with the help of a pilot project than bans hill-climbing trucks from the left lane between Box Canyon and Zopkios.

And that’s only one change among a series of recent measures to improve highway safety throughout B.C.’s mountainous interior.

“By restricting trucks from the left lane, we will be better able to maintain traffic flow [including emergency vehicles] and plowing operations, as well as significantly reduce the time it takes to re-establish the flow of traffic after a vehicle incident/closure,” the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure explained in a related statement.

Rick Moore, the owner of Kamloops-based North Thompson Trucking, certainly agreed with the restrictions.

“In the old days, we all just followed the leader up the hills – join the parade, we called it,” said Moore. “But what happens when you get a bunch of trucks coming up a hill is that they’ll be half way up and nobody can really pass anybody and you bugger up the whole hill and nobody can get by. The one guy will spin out, the next guy will spin out, and you’re holding up everything and messing up the hill.”

Moore went so far as to say trucks should be relegated to the right lane on any steep incline in B.C., but added that Snowshed Hill is a good place to monitor a pilot program.

“Half the time when [Snowshed Hill] is all clogged up and closed out it’s because guys are trying to pass each other,” he said. “One guy is going half a mile faster than the other guy and it takes him five minutes to pass the truck.”

B.C. Trucking Association (BCTA) president and CEO Dave Earle also applauded the decision to test a left-lane ban on commercial vehicles, but said the overall effort to increase safety was missing one key element.

Chaining up

“While the intent to maintain a clear path in the left lane is laudable, this pilot does not address the primary cause of highway closures during severely inclement weather, which is the failure of some drivers to chain up,” Earle said. “Unless this pilot is accompanied by significant regulatory change and increased enforcement, we are concerned that all the pilot may do is ensure it is only commercial vehicles trapped behind those few drivers who refuse to comply with the law.”

It didn’t take long following the BCTA’s comments for the government to react. The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure announced Nov. 28 that stricter regulations were being placed on commercial drivers when it comes to chaining up as well.

“Last winter, 33 of 35 extended closures on the Coquihalla involved commercial vehicles, and in most cases this was due to truck drivers either poorly installing chains or not using them at all,” said Claire Trevena, minister of transportation and infrastructure. “While most drivers do chain up during winter weather, these new regulations and the stricter fines that will follow will improve safety and hopefully reduce the number of closures.”

Prior to the change, only vehicles over 27,000 kg had to carry and use traction control devices, with only one wheel needing to be chained up when mandated. Now all vehicles over 5,000 kg will be required to carry and use chains when necessary.

Vehicles less than 11,794 kg – like buses or five-ton trucks – must use chains on a minimum of two tires and can use steel chains, cable chains, automatic chains, socks or wheel sanders, if not equipped with winter tires. Vehicles weighing 11,794 kg or more must use steel chains, and the number of tires needing chains ranges from a minimum of two tires for vehicles without a trailer, to six tires on some larger and more-demanding configurations.

To give those drivers a place to chain up, a new Box Canyons chain-up area has also been opened on the Coquihalla before summiting Snowshed Hill. That new location can hold up to 70 commercial vehicles at one time and accommodates oversized loads.

“The BCTA supports the government’s enhancements to commercial chain-up requirements, including the stiffer fines for those not compliant,” said Earle. “Safety of our drivers and all road users is our first priority.”

It’s still unknown how much the fine will increase, however. Previously, drivers faced a base fine of $121 for not carrying or installing chains when required.

Slowing down

Meanwhile, following research by the University of British Columbia, the province is slashing speeds on several highway segments that had their limits increased in 2013.

There had been about 15 fatal crashes per year on the 33 studied segments before the speed limits changed, said Dr. Gordon Lovegrove, a professor at the university. The number of fatalities doubled over three years.

But the Coquihalla keeps its 120 km/h limit between Kamloops and Hope, B.C.

Moore isn’t impressed by that. “Common sense says trucks going 120 km/h is too fast for a truck,” he said. “We never used to think that it was fine for a truck to go 70 mph (110 km/h), so I’m not sure what the conventional wisdom was when they upped the speed limit. You’re hauling 120,000 lb. on a loaded Super-B and going 70 mph, your time to stop … we’re talking hundreds of feet. I don’t think there’s a truck in B.C. that should be going faster than 105 km/h.”

A truck travel’s B.C. Coquihalla highway under favorable conditions. The way isn’t always this clear.

Highway segments
with speeds cut 10 km/h

  • Highway 1: Cowichan Bay to Nanaimo – 90 km/h to 80 km/h.
  • Highway 1: Whatcom Road to Hope – 110 km/h to 100 km/h.
  • Highway 1: Boston Bar to Jackass Mountain – 100 km/h to 90 km/h.
  • Highway 1: Tobiano to Savona – 100 km/h to 90 km/h.
  • Highway 1: Chase to Sorrento – 100 km/h to 90 km/h.
  • Highway 3: Sunday Summit to Princeton – 90 km/h to 80 km/h.
  • Highway 7: Agassiz to Hope – 100 km/h to 90 km/h.
  • Highway 19: Parksville to Campbell River – 120 km/h to 110 km/h.
  • Highway 19: Bloedel to Sayward – 100 km/h to 90 km/h.
  • Highway 97A: Grindrod to Sicamous – 90 km/h to 80 km/h.
  • Highway 97C: Merritt to Aspen Grove – 110 km/h to 100 km/h.
  • Highway 97C: Aspen Grove to Peachland – 120 km/h to 110 km/h.
  • Highway 99: Horseshoe Bay to Squamish – 90 km/h to 80 km/h.
  • Highway 99: Squamish to Whistler – 100 km/h to 90 km/h.
  • Highway 99: Whistler to Pemberton – 90 km/h to 80 km/h.
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A university graduate with a degree in English, I have worked in the media and trucking industries as a writer, editor, and now as western bureau chief of Today's Trucking and I have several years of management experience in journalism, as well as hospitality, but am first and foremost a writer, both professionally and in my personal life, having completed two fiction novels.

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