Road Safety & the Trucking Industry
By Mike Millian, President, PMTC
Recently the news has been littered with stories about unsafe Transport Operators from the general media and, unfortunately, also from OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes. The fatal incidents lately involving transport trucks on 400 series Highways in Ontario has been terrible, and the scene north of Barrie on Hwy 400 on October 31st was especially horrific. It involved 14 vehicles, three of which were transport trucks, and the death of three people, at least one of which was a truck driver.
My thoughts are with the families who lost loved ones and whose lives have been altered forever by these tragic events. A large portion of the media was quick to jump up and paint the entire trucking industry and its drivers in the most negative light possible. I fielded three calls myself that day from media outlets who wanted to discuss (in their words) the apparent epidemic of inattentive truck drivers, drivers under undue pressure and unrealistic deliver timelines, operating beyond hours of service limits and being improperly trained.
I dispelled these myths at every turn, and let them know how truly safe the industry is. I explained the policies, procedures and oversight that most companies in the industry already have in place. I expect these types of opinions and remarks from some members of the general media. It has been proven over the years that this type of reporting sells and scaring the public gets coverage.
As an industry we have been dealing with this negativity for years. What particularly upset me on this occasion however was that these opinions and fear were being fed to the media by the comments of the OPP themselves. In the last month this has become an all too common theme. The constant railing on the transport industry by OPP commissioner Hawkes, in my view, is reckless, uncalled for, and not helping matters. Calling trucks “missiles on wheels”, and putting CMV Drivers “On notice for being inattentive while behind the wheel” and stating, “The trucking industry should take a close look at the way we conduct our business”, are not helping. These types of statements are irresponsible, fear mongering and are not backed up by statistics.
I would hope for more decorum from our Commissioner. We need to work together to solve road safety issues, not point fingers and blame one specific sector, especially when statistics show that the professional truck operator is at fault in less than 30% of incidents involving heavy trucks. In 2016 there were 483 fatalities as a result of collisions in Ontario, 96 of these fatalities involved large trucks, or 20 percent. In 2015 the numbers were 503 fatalities, 95 of which involved large trucks, or 19%. In 2014 there were 517 Fatalities and 109 of these involved large trucks, or 21 percent. In the same time frame, licensed drivers have risen from 9,704,044 in 2014 to 9, 932,211 drivers in 2016. These numbers indicate we are showing improvement when placed in context. So far, this year, (70 Fatalities involving large truck collisions as of the end of October according to OPP Figures) we are on pace for roughly the same numbers with a slight improvement.
This does not appear to be an epidemic spiraling out of control as claimed. With all this being said, let me be clear, one fatality on a road way as a result of a collision is one too many in our opinion, and that of the industry. Our industry and our drivers share their workplace with the public. As an industry we are committed to doing whatever we can to ensure we reduce the number of collisions our trucks are in, and minimize their severity. We realize distracted driving is an issue for the trucking industry, as it is for society as a whole. Speeding in construction zones on 400 series Highways is also a huge issue for all types of vehicles. I applaud the Province of Ontario’s recent announcement of plans to increase penalties for distracted driving, an initiative for which we are in full support.
No matter what the penalties are however, unless we have increased enforcement, they will have limited effect. If we hope to change behaviors we need to increase enforcement, increase enforcement visibility, charge those that are guilty and work with the industry and the public on education. That will help solve the issue; words and threats won’t accomplish a thing. I am not justifying the actions of the drivers who caused the accidents out of reckless disregard for the rules. Quite the contrary, we want everyone who is violating the laws punished and dealt with appropriately, regardless of what they are operating.
The vast majority of the industry is even in favour of holding commercial operators to a higher standard as we are professionals, and it comes as part of our responsibility to keep our roads safe. We want to work together, and we understand we need to do what we can to make our roads even safer. However, let’s not lump the entire industry into one bucket.☚