The crash involving a truck and a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos hockey team which killed 15 and injured 14 ranks as one of the worst road accidents in North America. It has shaken Canadians and made headlines around the world. But more importantly, the on-going investigation has many in the South Asian community weary because the trucking company and the driver happen to be one of them.
The truck belonged to Adesh Deol Trucking Ltd., and was formed in September 2017, reports indicate that the company had one Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance inspection defect from the Northwest Territories for violating the federal hours of service regulation- a definite red flag for investigators.
Late last year I wrote a column titled Are Truckers Making Ontario’s highways dangerous?
Following that column I had conversations with truckers and other drivers who seemed to say the same thing- whenever drivers see a trucker whiz past them dangerously, it is invariably South Asian and oftentime news reports about accidents involving trucks name South Asian seems to confirm a dangerous and unflattering stereotype. This is unfair to a majority of South Asian truck drivers who have clean records and play by the rules. They worry that the publicity around the Humbolt crash could taint them in the eyes of Canadians.
This Humbolt accident investigation could prompt a closer look at inexperienced immigrant truck drivers, some of the driving schools that provide inadequate training to their students and practices adopted by some unscrupulous trucking companies that put profit before safety.
It was just a week ago when a large truck with its bed raised crashed into the overpass on Brien Boulevard on Highway 40 near Repentigny, just east of Montreal.
The truck appeared to be travelling at a high speed, causing its entire contents, canola seeds, to explode out onto the highway upon impact. Fortunately there were no fatalities.
Another similar accident occurred in 2014 when Sukhvinder Rai crashed his dump truck with its bucket raised into the Burlington Skyway resulting in the bridge being closed for four days and resulted in chaos. Brampton-based Rai was found guilty of dangerous driving, two of the other charges, related to impaired driving, were thrown out by the judge after he ruled the Ontario Provincial Police mishandled the breath tests.
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.
Last year one Joginder Singh a transport truck driver was 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.
When I spoke with a South Asian trucker about these sort of incidents, he said off the record of course, that many truck drivers need the money and drive longer hours than permitted.
A couple of decades ago, truck drivers in Canada were well-compensated and didn’t have to break the rules in order to make decent money. One truck owner/operator off the record blamed South Asian owner/operators who then started to undercut established operators by paying their drivers less and working on ways to circumvent rules governing how long they can drive. Many owners literally run their trucks to the ground by having them on the road 24/7 with the bare minimum of maintenance.
Another truck driver I met told me that it wasn’t that he was making less money over the years, but he had to drive longer hours in order to make the same amount of money. He blamed it on fellow competitors who bid lower to get contracts and according to him, trucking companies are forced to adopt such practices if they intend staying in business.
There are many reputed Driving Schools run by South Asians that provide excellent training, but there are unfortunately a few that are not doing such a great job.
Trucking is a dangerous and difficult profession, the hours are long and the stress is high. Many truckers see themselves as being victimized and blamed for everything that is wrong. Perhaps if companies awarded contracts based on safety background checks of the companies and drivers involved instead of being seduced by the lowest bid, it might have a cascading effect by ensuring drivers don’t have to drive 14 hours at one stretch in order to make a living and truck owners could use some of that additional money to maintaining their trucks.
The Humbolt investigation could take months, but truck drivers, owners and operators can in the meanwhile rectify things they know are just plain wrong or unethical. -CINEWS