Are truckers making Ontario’s highways dangerous?

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Pradip Rodrigues

The next time you are at a social gathering and the conversation descends into the mundane zone, casually bring up your close encounter with a moving missile or ask if someone has had one and bang, everyone will be talking about the perils of driving on a highway full of trucks.

Switch on the radio or scroll through some local news feed and you will come across headlines about accidents on the 401 invariably involving a truck. All of a sudden everyone will bring up their own truck loads of horror stories. Some drivers I know are terrified when they see trucks roaring past them on the highway, others credit crazy truck drivers for their religious awakening. And if you are a driver forced to use Ontario’s highways, you have good reason to fear death because the odds of you meeting your Creator while on the highway seems to be going up with every passing day. It’s best to be prepared because you will be on an ever expanding kill zone.

Everyone blames trucks for the rise in the number of accidents and with good reason. Among the 1,342 fatal motor vehicle collisions on OPP-patrolled roads between 2012 and 2016, 266 involved transport trucks.

During the same five-year period, 330 people died — the majority of victims were occupants of other involved vehicles. According to OPP data, 44 of the crash victims were drivers of the transport trucks, compared to 286 victims who were in cars and other smaller vehicles.

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So why exactly are there more such horrific accidents happening on our roadways. Are we imagining it, blowing it out of proportion or do we need to sit up and demand action?

Recently it was reported that Joginder Singh, a Brampton transport truck driver had been charged with failing to move over for an OPP cruiser stopped on the side of Highway 401, it was discovered that he had been driving longer than 14 hours without a break. I have spoken to people in the know who said this was a fairly common practice. In the interest of public safety police should really be investigating if this is happening and weed out any bad apples because it is giving truck drivers many of whom happen to be South Asian a bad name.

An investigation that would involve auditing truck driving schools and cracking down big time on truck operators who drive or get their drivers to go for 14 hours or longer without a break are some of the bright ideas that came from drivers who had a brush with death on the highway.

Damaged axles, blown tires or detached wheels, faulty brakes, defective hitches and unsecured loads are just some of the many factors responsible for the rash of truck-related crashes in recent times. Last month a friend driving late at night on the 401 narrowly missed crashing into a massive concrete pipe that had come loose from a truck in front of him, fortunately he moved into the other lane or else he’d be seriously injured or worse. He honked at the driver who he said seemed a little disoriented or unconcerned.

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While The Ontario Safety League (OSL) is calling for the provincial coroner to take an in-depth look, with “fresh eyes,” at what’s happening on Ontario’s roadways, there is a perception that no one seems to be taking road safety seriously but everyone is talking about it.

And while trucks are responsible for many crashes, it is really unfair not to take to task other drivers who are guilty of texting or trying to do their make-up while driving. In fact in 2016 more people were killed because of distracted driving,(65 in all), than in speed- or alcohol-related crashes.

Other factors making roadways even more dangerous could be the cocktail of medications and sleeping pills people are taking to counter things like panic attacks and depression. This could affect alertness.

Many drivers who have long commutes on the 401 and other GTA highways routinely check for accidents that would delay their commute.

For example the 401 was closed five times in 17 days after 10 transports or dump trucks collided at five locations in or near Waterloo Region alone.

It is clear that there is blame on all sides, although everyone ends up blaming truck drivers. So while publically everyone talks about trucks causing the accidents, in private they whisper about the drivers being South Asian and the South Asian operated driving schools. And while such finger pointing should not be outright dismissed as racism, it is not helpful to simply assign blame to the South Asian truck driver only because in many instances I’ve witnessed small vehicles and SUVs cut into lanes in front of a massive transport truck forcing the truck driver to honk and apply brakes. Many drivers don’t take adequate precautions while driving around large transport vehicles and this increases the risk of a serious accident that could potentially involve several vehicles.
The truth of the matter is that infrastructure has not kept up with rapid population growth and our highways will continue to be a battleground that claims many thousands more over the next decade. This means we will possibly need even larger waves of immigrants to replace those lives being lost on our highways.

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But here’s the thing, more immigrants means car sales are going up because new immigrants cannot afford to live in areas served well by public transit and are forced to live even further away from the places of employment. The housing situation ensures more people will be driving cars and our highways will continue to be clogged. In 2015 1.898 million new vehicles were sold in Canada, that number is rising with every passing year and with it the number of accidents.

Since it will take years before infrastructure gets better and driverless cars and trucks hit the road, things are going to get a lot worse before they get better. – CINEWS

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