EDITORIAL: Humboldt Tragedy Was Not A Collision of Chance

By Stephen Laskowski

Could any trucking company with a progressive safety management system, equipment maintenance programs as well as driver screening, training and corrective oversight have experienced a catastrophic collision on a public highway? Yes. Yet, in two thirds of collisions involving commercial vehicles the driver of the commercial vehicle is found not to be at fault. Why is that the case? Because the vast majority of trucking fleets and professional drivers in Canada take seriously their responsibility to protect the public they share the highways with and do not leave vehicle or driver safety to chance, as some on the mainstream media have implied, specifically journalism professor Randy Boswell in the Globe and Mail (Feb. 3) – 190205-The Glob and Mail-Boswell_public

Trucks carry heavy loads that require a high level of skill to operate. As an industry, we embrace this higher level of responsibility, meaning drivers and equipment are continuously monitored to ensure all regulations are adhered to.

Last week, the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) was asked repeatedly if the volume of charges against the driver, including multiple hours-of-service violations, is considered normal for a single operator of a trucking company. The answer is no. CTA was also asked if this driver, with so little experience, would have been hired and allowed to operate a heavy truck by CTA members. The answer is also no. So why did this horrible collision occur and are there solutions to preventing such a tragedy in the future?

While we will always struggle to find all the answers, the facts in this case clearly highlight the need for action to improve truck safety. The solutions for the most part are very clear: improved commercial truck driver training before licensing, elimination of paper logbooks, and more oversight over non-compliant carriers.

Recently, the federal government, led by Transport Minister Marc Garneau, announced the introduction of a mandatory entry level training standard (MELT) by Jan. 1, 2020. Currently, Ontario is the only province to have such standards in place, with the Alberta and Saskatchewan working through their regulatory process. This federal government announcement is a big step in improving highway safety and preventing inexperienced drivers from getting behind the wheel.

The next solution learned from the Humboldt tragedy is the elimination of paper logbooks, which is an archaic system used to track compliance for truck drivers. Paper logs are much more open to falsification than tamper-proof, electronic logging devices (ELD). Paper logbook violations were central among the charges against the truck driver in the Humboldt case. In the U.S., a mandatory ELD rule took effect in December 2017. Minister Garneau has been championing the introduction of this rule and the Canadian government is eyeing a possible final rule to be published this spring. CTA is urging regulators to implement and begin enforcing a regulation for mandatory tamper-proof ELD technology in all commercial trucks by no later than 2020.

The introduction of ELDs will ensure truck drivers are not fatigued while operating a commercial vehicle.  According to Transport Canada, fatigue in both truck and passenger car drivers is a factor in about 20 per cent of all collisions. There are about 9,400 HOS-related convictions per year in Canada and the introduction of tamper-proof, certified ELDs will be a driving force in reducing this number.

The final solution to improving truck safety is to introduce focused provincial government oversight on the small portion of non-compliant trucking companies that require it the most. Quite simply, we need to better use technology and enforcement data to focus provincial government resources on the bottom-portion of the trucking industry showing little to no regard for public safety or compliance. The vast majority of compliant fleets, and, no doubt, the Canadian public, would welcome this policy change.

CTA disagrees the Humboldt truck collision could have happened to any truck driver as Boswell implies. While even the most professional and experienced truck drivers employed by one of the thousands of trucking companies with excellent safety management programs can be involved in a fatal collision, the risk increases exponentially when unqualified drivers are put in the care and control of a heavy vehicle and especially if that driver is employed by a trucking company who does not invest in safety management systems and proper vehicle maintenance programs.

The trial of the driver involved in the Humboldt collision revealed his lack of readiness to operate a commercial vehicle. He admitted as much in court. When the trial of the trucking company involved in the Humboldt bus collision concludes, we will undoubtedly learn more about this fleet’s safety management systems and approach to highway safety, or, perhaps, its lack thereof.

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