Hearing about the recent accidents on the major highways around the GTA, makes you think every time, “That could have been me.”
Taking the 401 saves you a lot of time, but when the highway sees an accident, it shuts the whole process down, your quick commute can turn into a four-hour stand still in the blink of an eye. These accidents range from minor to major, whether it is a two-vehicle collision or a multiple vehicle pile up, the flow of traffic is always affected, regardless of collision severity. However these more recent incidents that have completely closed the major highways are sparking an uproar in the public against commercial vehicles.
The question is raised, how do these major lethal accidents reoccur so frequently, and who is at fault? Being new to the trucking industry, I am starting to see the divide between commercial drivers and the public, but in a different light. If you asked me a couple months ago what the most dangerous part of driving the 401 was, I’d say being just feet away from an 18-wheeler travelling upwards of 100km/hr. Thinking that they are a ticking time bomb.
Now, I’m starting to see that while these commercial vehicles can do the most damage on a highway, it is not fair to blame every truck on the road. But rather the people texting and driving, or eating and driving, those distracted drivers that cause sudden stops and potential pileups.
Ultimately it is the size of the vehicle involved that shows the consequences of distracted driving on these fast-moving highways. OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes mentioned following the lethal collision on the 401 near Cambridge, that “most truck drivers use caution and are among the safest operators on the roads but others don’t and are essentially behind the wheel of ‘a time bomb that is travelling down the highway.’” Once these 80,000lb vehicles are in full motion, their stopping time is 160 metres, approximately two football fields.1
As Jennifer Bieman highlights in her article, Despite recent carnage, number of truck-related deaths on province’s highways is declining, big rig related deaths are declining on Ontario highways, even with the increase of trucks on the road. The numbers have dropped by three per cent between 2010 and 2014, while the number of big rigs have increased by 12 per cent. Although this improvement is a step in the right direction it doesn’t take away from the recent multi-vehicle fatal collisions so close to home. The recent collision on highway 400 that closed the highway for the night and entire day was horrifically unimaginable. OPP Sgt, Kerry Schmidt described the accident as one of the worst crashes he had ever seen in terms of absolute carnage and destruction. Videos and photographs flooded the internet showing the massive flames engulfing the entire highway as the fuel tankers caught and the carnage ignited, shooting fireballs in every direction. This incident took the lives of three people, but had the protentional to take at least 25 more, OPP commissioner Vince Hawkes expressed while putting the trucking industry on notice.
There was more bad news for the trucking industry earlier in October when a driver was killed after running his truck hauling lumber into the back of another truck. Abdual Waheed was pronounced dead on the scene after he was pulled from his wrecked cab. More than half of the skids in the trailer were sent flying out the front of the cab as the truck slammed into the truck in front of it. This incident mirrored the four incidents this past summer due to driver inattention that killed 10 people, all of which resulted in criminal charges. As Jeff Outhit highlighted in his article surrounding Waheed’s death, “as of Oct. 15 this year there have been more than 5,000 transport truck-related collisions with 67 deaths, the OPP said. The trucking association says transport drivers are at fault in less than one-third of fatal crashes involving trucks. It says the fatality rate from large truck collisions fell 66 per cent while truck registrations increased 75 per cent between 1995 and 2014.” OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes reminds drivers of “the tremendous toll on the lives of innocent citizens when commercial transport truck drivers are not paying full attention to the road.”
Ultimately it is those drivers that are to blame for these type of incidents, those that are failing to be fully focused on the road, and fail to see the slowing of traffic or dead halt ahead. These are the drivers that need to get off the road, whether they are driving their son or daughter to practice, or if they are driving an 80,000lb vehicle. As I see it, if you do not have your undivided attention on the road in front of you, you are to blame.
As Ontario Trucking Association spokesperson Marco Beghetto highlighted, “We believe that truck drivers are the safest operators on the road, but one incident is too many.” You are truly only as strong as your weakest link, as long as there are distracted drivers on the road, there will be fatal collisions.
So, my advice to everyone-just pay attention to the damn road ahead, and drive as though the person you love most is sitting in the passenger seat next to you.
JBT Transport would love to hear your thoughts and comments on what you think is causing these major incidents, along with factors of why drivers could be distracted. Is it cellphone use, fatigue, personal problems? Is there more the industry can do to combat this all? Let us know.