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