Bear­ing wit­ness

When it comes to speed­ing and other road haz­ards, trans­port driv­ers have seen it all

Truro Daily News - - MARITIME LIFE - BY ROSALYN ROY THE GULF NEWS [email protected] Twit­ter: @tyger­lylly

ED­I­TOR’S NOTE:

This is the se­cond part of a three-part se­ries look­ing at speed­ing and dis­tracted driv­ing on At­lantic Canada’s high­ways. See last week’s edi­tion for the first part or visit our web­site to see the en­tire se­ries. Part 3 will run in next week’s pa­per.

Are­cent video of a speed­ing ve­hi­cle il­le­gally pass­ing one trans­port trailer - only to nar­rowly miss col­lid­ing with an­other on­com­ing trailer in South Branch - is a pretty com­mon oc­cur­rence, ac­cord­ing to a few trans­port driv­ers.

Shawn Hughes has been driv­ing trac­tor trail­ers for 20 of years. Based out of Flow­ers Cove on New­found­land's North­ern Penin­sula, he jour­neys reg­u­larly through­out the At­lantic prov­inces.

He's seen a lot of sim­i­lar close calls.

“The biggest prob­lem in New­found­land is there’s very few pass­ing lanes and the pass­ing lanes that you do have are up­hill.”

He of­fers up an ex­am­ple of the root of the prob­lem.

“Speed is not the is­sue. It’s the dif­fer­ence in speed,” says Hughes. “If ev­ery­body is go­ing 120, no one’s got an is­sue. If every­one is go­ing 60, no one’s got an is­sue. Now one driver do­ing 120, an­other do­ing 60? You’ve got an is­sue.”

Such a big dif­fer­ence be­tween two ve­hi­cles with no pass­ing lane for kilo­me­tres can prompt some mo­torists to pass il­le­gally at dan­ger­ous speeds. Hughes be­lieves that a di­vided high­way would likely help al­le­vi­ate the prob­lem.

He con­trasts the lack of pass­ing lanes in New­found­land with that of Nova Sco­tia, which has a sub­stan­tial di­vided high­way sys­tem.

“Def­i­nitely, 100 per cent safer,” main­tains Hughes. “If you’ve got a pass­ing lane and noth­ing com­ing to­wards you... that in­ci­dent (in South Branch)… you’d have never seen that if it was on a di­vided high­way.”

Hughes notes that Terra Nova and Gros Morne parks have added more pass­ing lanes.

Hughes says this helps, not only when it comes to slower driv­ers or trans­port trucks, but even with tourists, par­tic­u­larly those who visit the prov­ince in campers, which, like trac­tor trail­ers, typ­i­cally drop speed on in­clines.

“I would make a push for a di­vided high­way, that’s what I would make a push for, but you’ve got to fight your bat­tles. So start off with pass­ing lanes.”

IN­CON­SIS­TENT RULES

Just adding pass­ing lanes prob­a­bly isn’t just enough though. Hughes would also like to see con­sis­tent rules from prov­ince to prov­ince.

For ex­am­ple, in New­found­land, the in­ner lane has right of way and the left outer lane must yield, whereas in Nova Sco­tia, it’s the other way around. That can cause con­fu­sion, par­tic­u­larly for tourists and other out-of-prov­ince driv­ers.

“At what point does the left lane yield to the right?” asks Hughes.

For trans­port driv­ers pass­ing a slower mo­torist, there is some­times not enough room to fully com­plete the pass be­fore the lane ends, and slow­ing quickly to al­low the other lane to merge back into traf­fic is not some­thing a trans­port truck is even ca­pa­ble of, re­gard­less of what the rules man­date.

Some­times, says Hughes, other driv­ers don’t re­al­ize just how hard it is for trans­port trailer to ad­just quickly. A close call in Whit­bourne not long ago quickly springs to mind.

“I had a car pull out in front of me and I had to lock on my brakes.”

Luck­ily, Hughes was haul­ing a full load of po­ta­toes, which is con­sid­er­ably heav­ier than the half-load of pump­kins he had as freight the week be­fore. Had it been the other way around, he would very likely have crushed the ve­hi­cle who cut him off.

He also thinks con­struc­tion zones can play a fac­tor.

“I think con­struc­tion com­pa­nies are mak­ing their own prob­lems there,” says Hughes. He agrees mo­torists def­i­nitely need to slow down when en­ter­ing a zone where work is be­ing done, but when no work is be­ing done, it would be safer to drop or cover the sig­nage.

“If you’re go­ing through a site four times in one day and there’s no­body there, the fifth time when you go through there, are you slow­ing down?”

'NO FIN­GER­NAILS LEFT'

Dar­lene Frye-bren­nan and Adam Leyte have been driv­ing trans­port trucks for seven­teen or eigh­teen years. Bren­nan is based out of Clarenville, NL while Leyte hails from Port aux Basques, NL. Her trips take her reg­u­larly through­out Canada and even into the United States, while Leyte usu­ally keeps pri­mar­ily to New­found­land.

Like Hughes, they both have seen their fair share of close calls, enough to agree that a di­vided high­way sys­tem would be safer for all mo­torists.

“You take one trip across the is­land with me and you will have no fin­ger­nails left by the time you get to St. John’s,” prom­ises Bren­nan.

She says lead-footed driv­ers are com­mon ev­ery­where, but New­found­land’s road sys­tems don’t help.

“The thing with New­found­land is we’re mostly one-lane roads. When you get ev­ery­where else you’ve got dou­ble lanes, so you’ve got a bet­ter chance.”

“If ev­ery driver on this is­land for one day, just one, turned in their dash cams, that even­ing it would put half the driv­ers in this prov­ince out of a li­cense,” be­lieves Leyte.

RULE OF THE ROAD: RE­SPECT

Deon Fil­lier is an­other trans­port driver, and like his col­leagues, he has far too many hor­ror sto­ries. Re­cently, he was on the road in New Brunswick dur­ing a bliz­zard. Dur­ing se­vere white­out con­di­tions, a mo­torist in a sports car sped past him and rear-ended a col­league up ahead.

“There’s one sim­ple rule to the road and that’s re­spect. If it’s too bad, go home,” says Fil­lier, who spent 18 hours in Ed­mund­ston, NB wait­ing for the storm to pass.

Rain or snow are bad enough, but throw in high-speed winds in spots like the Wreck­house in New­found­land and con­di­tions be­come out­right haz­ardous.

Driv­ers must make a hard choice, and sev­eral fac­tors can come in to play, such as dead­lines and freight. Miss­ing a drop when there are per­ish­able goods aboard can even re­sult in fines to a com­pany. No­body wants to buy rot­ten pro­duce. But high winds at the Wreck­house don’t au­to­mat­i­cally ne­ces­si­tate de­lays.

“It all de­pends on the weight on your trailer and how it’s loaded,” says Leyte, who typ­i­cally hauls lum­ber. Bob­tail­ing - just the truck with­out a trailer - is usu­ally pretty safe.

“Usu­ally, any­thing above 60 (km/h) with an empty trailer, you’re ask­ing for trou­ble. It’s like play­ing Rus­sian roulette.”

'YOU SEE HOR­RI­BLE THINGS'

When she worked a dis­patcher and if it was com­ing from the south­east, Bren­nan warned driv­ers not to go through if the winds ex­ceeded 70 km/h.

Like the oth­ers, Bren­nan has sim­i­lar tales about driv­ers not re­spect­ing chang­ing road con­di­tions only to meet with dis­as­ter. She once wit­nessed the af­ter­math of a tragic ac­ci­dent.

“That was once too many,” she ad­mits. And while some will pass with­out a se­cond glance, there are oth­ers whose first thoughts seem to be of so­cial me­dia.

“You’ve got oth­ers who will slow right down just to take pic­tures.”

Leyte runs a Face­book page called New­found­land Trucker Group. Although truck­ers wit­ness more than most other driv­ers, the group does not al­low post­ing of ac­ci­dent pho­tos or videos.

He once tried his best to help af­ter chanc­ing upon a van that had rolled. He brought his truck to a stop, di­aled 911 and raced into the ditch where the ve­hi­cle had come to rest.

“I’m crawl­ing in through the back of the van. I find her. She was alive when I got in. She wasn’t when I got out. I never got out un­til the paramedics got there.”

“You see hor­ri­ble things,” says Bren­nan. “Some­times, I think the ones that just drive on by have got the right idea. I couldn’t do that. You never know what you’re go­ing to see. We’re not paramedics, but we’re not go­ing to go and leave some­body in a ditch ei­ther.”

“Usu­ally any­thing above 60 (km/h) with an empty trailer you’re ask­ing for trou­ble. It’s like play­ing Rus­sian roulette.” – Trans­port driver Adam Leyte

ROSALYN ROY / THE GULF NEWS

Dar­lene Frye-bren­nan and Adam Leyte.

COUR­TESY OF SHAWN HUGHES

Shawn Hughes.

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