TORONTO — After a number of fatal collisions on regional highways this winter, a northern Ontario MPP is calling on the province to take action.
Thunder Bay-Superior North NDP MPP Lise Vaugeois held a press conference at Queen's Park on Wednesday, addressing highway safety concerns following several recent incidents, including the deaths of a transport driver near Marathon and a snowplow operator after colliding with a tractor trailer near Ignace within the last week.
“We are here today to talk about the situation of trucker training in Ontario,” said Vaugeois.
Vaugeois also mentioned an incident in Beardmore, where a transport truck crashed into two homes, as well as a similar incident in Thunder Bay where a transport overturned in a backyard.
“The concern is that there are people on the road driving these very big transport trucks that are not being adequately trained,” Vaugeois said.
Vaugeois referred to the recent Auditor General’s Report on highway safety, which found road testing of commercial vehicle drivers by private carriers between 2014 and 2015, and then in 2018 and 2019, had a pass rate of 95 per cent compared to the 69 per cent pass rate from drive test centres.
It also found that “25 per cent of the 106 carriers testing their drivers under the program ranked among the worst one per cent for all carriers for all at fault collision performances.”
“What it means is that there are driving schools that are not adequately preparing drivers for the risks and the responsibilities of driving on our highways,” Vaugeois said.
Vaugeois said some trucking companies operate their own trucking school, which results in a conflict of interest.
“The government really needs to be monitoring what is going on or perhaps requiring that those functions be separated,” said Vaugeois.
Travis McDougall, a co-founder of Truckers for Safer Highways, also spoke at the press conference and talked about his first-hand accounts of unsafe truck drivers on the highway.
“I, myself, just travel through, on my way home from western Canada, northern and northwestern Ontario this past weekend and saw the extreme amount of carnage that gives validity to our concerns,” McDougall, who is a commercial truck driver, said.
McDougall said he regularly sees transport truck drivers taking irresponsible risks while driving on Ontario’s highways, but said it is not an issue limited to just this province.
“It’s becoming common to see trucks choosing to pass each other in unsafe ways. Going up a hill, around curves, and these are passes that are into oncoming traffic. These lanes are designated for oncoming traffic and are not meant for trucks to be passing each other on hills or curves,” said McDougall.
McDougall also notes that he is seeing commercial truck drivers reaching dangerous speeds through residential areas.
“These actions are resulting in serious if not fatal conditions,” McDougall said while citing the crash in Beardmore as an example.
McDougall described the quality of driver training as “insufficient,” calling on the Ford government to step in and mandate that commercial carriers provide additional driver training after new commercial truck drivers acquire their licenses and improved highway road maintenance.
“Often many carriers are finding that newly licensed drivers are coming to them looking for a job and these new drivers not able to safely operate a vehicle when they do their pre-employment road test,” McDougall said.
Timiskaming-Cochrane NDP MPP John Vanthof said there are good truck driving schools in Ontario — and good truck drivers — stating that the trucking industry and its drivers perform a great service to the country, but “some don’t understand that they are driving 40-tonne missiles.”
“I have a big stretch of highway that goes through my riding and everyone who lives in my riding has had a white-knuckle story about being passed on a hill or being pushed off the road," he said.
"I drive a lot. I drive 100,000 kilometres a year and I get pushed off the road once in and while too.”
Vanthof said the province can regulate trucking companies to ensure that they are complying with highway safety, particularly when it comes to mandating that truckers stop if weather conditions are hazardous.
“I’ve heard from truckers who are pressured to keep driving, no matter the conditions unless the roads are closed. Sometimes then they are the reason that the road becomes closed,” said Vaugeois.
McDougall also called for more highway inspection zones to be opened.
“I went all the way to the coast in B.C. and the only scale that I crossed that was open between our yard in Barrie, Ont., and Richmond, B.C., was Hope, BC,” said McDougall.
It is in these inspection zones that officers check logs to see how many hours truckers have been driving, along with inspecting the condition of the commercial vehicle.
“Inspection and regulation are part of the program to make sure that people on the road, including other truckers, know that everyone driving has an equivalent level of skill and right now that confidence isn’t there and it shows up sadly in accidents,” Vanthof said.
"Highway 11/17 isn’t just a highway. It’s our main street. If my kids or my wife wants to go for groceries, she’s on Highway 11 with those trucks, so it’s much more personal for us. It’s not just statistics for us.”