Big-rig blame game doesn’t add up

Deadly crashes on On­tario high­ways, in­clud­ing a huge pileup near Toronto this week, have thrust the truck­ing in­dus­try un­der a harsh spot­light. The prob­lem? Num­bers in­di­cate truck­ers aren’t the main cul­prit.

The Delhi News-Record - - OPINION - ANALYSIS BY JONATHAN SHER — jsher@post­media.com

Ex­plo­sions and ever-ris­ing fire­balls lit up the night sky Tues­day on a busy high­way north of Toronto, the heat melt­ing cars, killing mo­torists and leav­ing in its hellish cen­tre the re­mains of fuel trucks and trans­port trucks.

Com­mer­cial truck­ers were al­ready in the cross hairs of the OPP com­mis­sioner af­ter a se­ries of deadly sum­mer crashes in On­tario cul­mi­nated in what po­lice called the “Ar­maged­don” near Toronto, but a deeper dive into col­li­sion sta­tis­tics sug­gests truck­ers are hardly pub­lic en­emy No. 1.

Since 1995, when 182 peo­ple were killed in On­tario col­li­sions in­volv­ing com­mer­cial trucks, the num­ber of li­censed truck­ers has surged by 75 per cent but the num­ber of truck-re­lated deaths had plunged to 109 in 2014, a drop of 40 per cent, ac­cord­ing to On­tario’s Trans­porta­tion Min­istry.

While the min­istry doesn’t have fi­nal data for 2015, 2016 or 2017, be­fore Tues­day’s crash that killed at least three peo­ple, there had been only 67 deaths this year in­volv­ing truck­ers on the 400-se­ries high­ways and ru­ral roads that the OPP pa­trols, the force said.

At that rate, the death toll in­volv­ing trucks would reach 81 by year’s end, ex­clud­ing crashes in ma­jor cities pa­trolled by lo­cal po­lice.

It’s not only the fall­ing death count that’s at odds with the no­tion truck­ers have grown more reck­less. From 2009 to 2014, truck drivers in­volved in fa­tal col­li­sions were more than twice as likely to be driv­ing prop­erly as were car drivers, min­istry fig­ures show.

But those sta­tis­tics weren’t men­tioned by OPP Com­mis­sioner Vince Hawkes when, this week, he com­pared com­mer­cial trucks to “mis­siles” on On­tario’s high­ways and laid blame at the heavy foot of a trucker who al­legedly was driv­ing too fast Tues­day to safely stop as he ap­proached flash­ing emer­gency lights and traf­fic slowed by an ear­lier, smaller col­li­sion, his trailer set­ting off a 14-ve­hi­cle crash.

“There’s re­ally no ex­cuse for that trans­port truck to con­tinue at the speeds that they did and im­pact the ve­hi­cles that we in the (traf­fic) queue,” Hawkes said.

“It’s a mir­a­cle we don’t have 25 bod­ies down there.”

A grow­ing num­ber of truck­ers are dis­tracted when they drive, a trend he said “is get­ting worse.”

His words came days af­ter he an­nounced the OPP had charged three truck­ers in three sum­mer crashes that killed six peo­ple.

“This se­ries of hor­rific col­li­sions is driver inat­ten­tion at its worst and the most tragic re­minder in re­cent his­tory of the tremen­dous toll on the lives of in­no­cent cit­i­zens when com­mer­cial trans­port truck drivers are not pay­ing full at­ten­tion to the road,” Hawkes said. “We are putting drivers on no­tice.”

While On­tario is­sues 100-page re­ports that scru­ti­nize col­li­sion data each year in many ways, Hawkes last week only cited two stats about trucks, leav­ing the im­pres­sion truck­ers own more than their fair share of death on On­tario roads. But a re­view of the min­istry data from the last 22 years points to the op­po­site con­clu­sion: That truck­ers are killing fewer peo­ple on On­tario roads and that their share of blame is smaller than that of other mo­torists.

Twice asked this week for an in­ter­view with Hawkes, the OPP didn’t re­spond to the re­quests.

The three sum­mer col­li­sions oc­curred over eight days. Their vic­tims in­cluded a 14-year-old boy.

The images place truck­ers in the mid­dle of dis­as­ter, but those images don’t re­flect the safety record of com­mer­cial drivers, said Stephen Laskowski, the pres­i­dent of the On­tario Truck­ing As­so­ci­a­tion.

“The vi­su­als of com­mer­cial (truck) col­li­sions are ab­so­lutely fright­en­ing,” he said, but those images don’t show how truck­ers have im­proved safety over time.

“They share the road with your fam­ily and their own fam­i­lies. They do not take that re­spon­si­bil­ity lightly,” he said.

Ad­vo­cates for traf­fic safety have asked On­tario’s Coroner of­fice to re­view deaths on 400-se­ries high­ways.

MIKE HENSEN/ THE LON­DON FREE PRESS

Trans­port trucks head east near Lon­don on the Hwy. 401, the na­tion’s busiest high­way.

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