Truck­ers un­der pres­sure

Dead­lines, traf­fic haz­ards can make the 401 a per­ilous trip

The Recorder & Times (Brockville) - - FRONT PAGE - STEPH CROSIER

When Jim Young started driv­ing a trans­port truck 30 years ago, he loved the open road. He’d watch the sun rise and set with min­i­mal brake lights in view.

Re­cently, High­way 401 has be­come a different ball game and now the job he used to love has be­come a chore, Young ad­mit­ted.

“I used to like it; now it’s a pay­cheque,” said Young, who reg­u­larly drives up to 13 hours a day along the High­way 401 cor­ri­dor. “Prior to all these is­sues, you’re out in the open. I’d leave (Kingston) for Mon­treal and you’d see two cars. It’s just you and the high­way un­der­neath a thou­sand stars.

“Now it’s pres­sure, pres­sure, pres­sure, go, go, go. Ev­ery­thing has gone hay­wire.”

Dale Lewis has been driv­ing big rigs for 54 years, most re­cently trans­port­ing “moo juice.” He ad­mits that ramp­ing out onto the high­way with 75,000 pounds of milk fright­ens him.

“I got my li­cence in ’64 and it still scares me, that High­way 401,” Lewis said, re­call­ing one dis­turb­ing in­ci­dent of dis­tracted driv­ing in par­tic­u­lar. “I’ve passed an­other truck, they’re weav­ing over the line, so I look over and I’m telling you the guy has got his bare foot up on the dash and he’s sit­ting back with one hand on the steer­ing wheel and he’s tex­ting.

“I don’t know, there’s some­thing wrong all right. I’m glad I’m on my way out.”

On Thurs­day, On­tario Pro­vin­cial Po­lice re­ported that fa­tal trac­tor­trailer col­li­sions on the roads they pa­trol – High­way 401 be­ing one of them – have gone up 38 per cent over 2017. They stated that they have in­ves­ti­gated 33 fa­tal col­li­sions in­volv­ing large trans­ports and 41 peo­ple have been killed this year. In the East Re­gion, there have been eight fa­tal col­li­sions, up 33.3 per cent over last year.

As of Thurs­day, the OPP have in­ves­ti­gated more than 3,600 trans­port truck-re­lated col­li­sions in 2018, which rep­re­sents 11 per cent of all 34,461 col­li­sions.

The pro­vin­cial force re­ported that this year they have laid more than 1,615 speed­ing charges, 354 dis­tracted driv­ing charges and 963 de­fec­tive-equip­ment-re­lated charges against trans­port truck driv­ers.

Dur­ing their 24-hour blitz in early June, the OPP laid 38 charges for hav­ing no speed lim­iters – trucks are lim­ited to 105 km/h – and 31 for hours of ser­vice. Elec­tronic logs to track hours of ser­vice are manda­tory in the United States. Cana­dian driv­ers must follow suit by 2020.

Most trans­port trucks in Canada are al­ready equipped with elec­tronic logs, but not ev­ery­one likes them. Young said the logs are mak­ing it nearly im­pos­si­ble to make it to des­ti­na­tions on time, es­pe­cially if a driver is stuck in con­struc­tion or behind a crash for hours.

They “bother” Lewis, who is still us­ing a pa­per log.

“It’s my the­ory that if you can’t cheat in your log­book, you can’t make enough money to own your own truck. That’s a fact,” Lewis said. “You don’t have time (to sleep). You could be in Ohio and they’d say to be in Mon­treal the next morn­ing. I’d say, ‘I’ve only got three hours left in my log­book,’ and they’d say ‘take care of it.’ And you’d be there. That’s the crazy part – you’d be there.

“I know we didn’t al­ways do things right, but that was the only way you could make a dol­lar.”

Across the prov­ince this year, the OPP re­port that they have ded­i­cated close to 4,300 hours to trans­port truck in­spec­tions and have taken 658 ve­hi­cles off the road as a re­sult.

Said to be the busiest high­way in North Amer­ica and among the most ac­tive in the world, High­way 401 is com­par­a­tively safe, said Insp. Scott Sem­ple, com­man­der of the OPP’s Na­pa­nee de­tach­ment.

In ad­di­tion to reg­u­lar ran­dom com­mer­cial ve­hi­cle in­spec­tions, Sem­ple will be push­ing for RIDE pro­grams where driv­ers con­gre­gate. On June 12, the OPP charged a 31-year-old trucker from Stoney Creek with im­paired driv­ing af­ter he struck a sta­tion­ary con­struc­tion sign truck that was oc­cu­pied by a worker and then fled the scene, leav­ing his pas­sen­ger side door behind. He was ar­rested at the next OnRoute, off the west­bound lanes in Mal­lo­ry­town.

Brockville na­tive Jo­hanne Cou­ture has been driv­ing for 24 years and still loves her job. She serves on the board of direc­tors for the Women’s Truck­ing Fed­er­a­tion of Canada and is the only woman and Cana­dian board mem­ber with the Owner- Op­er­a­tor In­de­pen­dent Driv­ers As­so­ci­a­tion. One of the ma­jor goals of the as­so­ci­a­tion is to ad­vo­cate for the in­dus­try and pro­mote it as a skilled trade.

Cou­ture pro­posed that if po­lice and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials upped their en­force­ment, the high­way would be a safer place for all.

“Ev­ery­thing goes back to money. The so­lu­tion to a lot of these prob­lems (on the high­way) is en­force­ment … a lot more en­force­ment,” Cou­ture said. “If en­force­ment is present, all driv­ers are go­ing to pay more at­ten­tion. If you see a po­lice of­fi­cer sit­ting in the mid­dle turn­around area, the first thing you do is check your speed and ac­tu­ally pay at­ten­tion.

“Hav­ing en­force­ment present will in­crease safety.”

Sem­ple coun­tered that there wouldn’t be a need for more en­force­ment if ev­ery­one fol­lowed the rules of the road. He’s chal­leng­ing the truck­ing in­dus­try – all of its lead­ers, boards and as­so­ci­a­tions – to look for so­lu­tions amongst their peers.

“(En­force­ment) is some­thing that we do and we’re on­go­ing in our ef­forts to pro­mote pub­lic safety on the high­way, but we also need part­ners in this, and they ’re a huge part­ner,” Sem­ple said. “They’re a pro­fes­sional group of peo­ple and some­times we see a lack of pro­fes­sion­al­ism in that in­dus­try. I would sug­gest that they need to get their house in order be­fore they crit­i­cize the en­force­ment ef­forts.”

The On­tario Truck­ing As­so­ci­a­tion did not re­spond to Post­media’s re­quest for an in­ter­view with pres­i­dent Stephen Laskowski by pub­li­ca­tion.

When her rig is fully loaded, Cou­ture hauls 80,000 pounds of liq­uid chem­i­cals and has done so for the past 10 years all over Canada and the United States. Her scari­est col­li­sion while she was driv­ing came in Iowa when an­other truck lost con­trol on icy roads and hit her. She ended up jack­knif­ing and sliding into the ditch, but luck­ily she wasn’t in­jured and she wasn’t haul­ing any chem­i­cals, some of which “could de­stroy a neigh­bour­hood,” at the time.

But trucks aren’t the only ve­hi­cles on the high­way, Cou­ture re­minds. She added that news ar­ti­cles and those post­ing on social me­dia only tell the be­gin­ning of the story, by only stat­ing that a truck was in­volved and then never fol­low­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion to learn whether it was to blame.

“Only roughly 20 per cent of ac­ci­dents in­volv­ing trucks were ac­tu­ally caused by the trucks. What is not be­ing put out in the lime­light is what is re­ally caus­ing the ac­ci­dents,” Cou­ture said. “A lot of it is im­proper train­ing of reg­u­lar G-class driv­ers and some truck driv­ers.”

Cou­ture pointed out that On­tario’s Manda­tory En­try Level Train­ing for new driv­ers will be im­prov­ing safety in the long term. The train­ing was put in place on July 1, 2017.

De­spite the new pro­vin­cial train­ing, some of the driv­ers in­ter­viewed were crit­i­cal of the level of train­ing new op­er­a­tors are re­ceiv­ing and the at­ti­tudes new driv­ers pos­sess.

Young started in the busi­ness by work­ing on load­ing docks. Then he fu­elled and parked the trucks, and then he drove with an ex­pe­ri­enced driver for five years.

“I’ve had head hon­chos of the man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pa­nies say­ing that there is a short­age of trans­port truck driv­ers,” Young said. “In­stead of upping the pay scale, now within five min­utes I can show you how to drive that truck and you could be on your way.”

Young could still re­mem­ber one of his worst crashes vividly. It was a snowy day on High­way 401 out­side Cobourg and he was driv­ing west to Toronto. The roads hadn’t been plowed when a woman with young chil­dren in the back seat ramped onto the high­way, and in­stead of fol­low­ing the lane, slid right in front of him. Young hit the brakes, turned to the left and drove right through the ce­ment bar­rier. No one was in­jured, but the truck was de­stroyed.

Young ex­plained that “some­times when you have a heavy load, you can step on the brakes, but when it starts push­ing you, it’s like some­one is behind you push­ing you over a cliff.”

STEPH CROSIER/POST­MEDIA NETWORK

Trans­port trucks travel High­way 401 in Kingston on Thurs­day.

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