Cambridge driver calls for mandatory safety training
The 60,000-kilogram tractor-trailer on your tail on Highway 401 is probably being driven by a professional who did an extensive safety check of the truck before getting behind the wheel...
The 60,000-kilogram tractor-trailer on your tail on Highway 401 is probably being driven by a professional who did an extensive safety check of the truck before getting behind the wheel. Or maybe not.
Cambridge driver calls for mandatory safety training
To get a truck licence in Ontario, drivers are not required to take extensive safety training. And Cambridge truck driver Karl Evers says it's a recipe for disaster.
He says trucking is becoming a penny-pinching, corner-cutting industry that puts safety on the back burner.
"Back in the '80s, truck drivers were making the same amount as teachers. Now, an average teacher's wage is about $90,000 a year and a truck driver's average wage is $45,000 to $55,000" Evers said.
"If you're not going to keep up with the standard of pay, eventually you're going to lose your standard of quality of workers coming into that field. And that's the major problem. You get what you pay for."
Evers, 34, makes $18 an hour driving for Canada Cartage. That's the same wage he got 10 years ago when he became a trucker.
To try to make more money, some trucking companies put off repairs, Evers said. Some drivers, worried they might lose their job, keep quiet about safety problems. Some truckers take back roads to avoid inspection stations.
"It's a crazy, scary industry the way it's sliding downhill," Evers said.
Ontario Trucking Association spokesperson Marco Beghetto disagrees.
Most companies and drivers take safety seriously, he said.
"I can tell you that statistically the industry has never been safer," Beghetto said.
Before Evers got behind the wheel, he enrolled in a program. He took 40 hours of in-class and 14 hours of in-truck training. An emphasis was placed on safety.
Today, many new truckers know little about safety, Evers said. Some just memorize enough to pass the licence test and don't learn about important things like checking the brakes, he said.
Evers is calling for mandatory, government-approved training for all new truckers. It would emphasize truck safety and be taught by trucking schools. The course would take a few weeks.
The trucking association, which represents 500 trucking companies, is in talks with the provincial government to develop mandatory training with a safety component.
"Right now, pretty much anybody can start a trucking company and pretty much anybody can get an AZ licence to become a truck driver," Beghetto acknowledged.
"All you have to do is pass a test and out on the road you go."
Waterloo Regional Police Staff Sgt. Mike Hinsperger agrees getting an AZ licence is easy.
And he knows what he's talking about. He is a former truck driver, one of just three regional police officers trained to do safety blitz inspections, and chair of an Ontario police committee that focuses on truck safety.
He agrees mandatory safety training would be helpful.
Evers sees one problem: trucking companies may not want to foot the bill for the training.
Beghetto said all provincial trucking associations back mandatory training.
"There might be some individual owner-operators out there that don't like the idea of a more stringent training standard, but we're all for it."
It's wrong to suggest truck drivers don't need safety knowledge, said Bob Nichols, spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Transportation.
"Ontario's testing of prospective truck drivers includes successful completion of a knowledge test for large trucks, performing the daily pre-trip inspection, coupling and uncoupling the trailer for a tractor-trailer, driving in traffic and handling the truck safely," he said.
"It is only through demonstrating the ability to do these requirements competently that a prospective driver is granted a licence."
Nichols said that despite growing truck traffic, the number of deadly crashes involving large trucks in Ontario has been dropping.
From 2002 to 2011, the number of trucks increased by 23 per cent. During that period, the number of deaths due to crashes with large trucks fell 41 per cent, from 171 in 2002 to 101 in 2011.
Although most trucking companies and drivers put safety at the top of the priority list, Hinsperger said he often comes across drivers who are in the dark.
By law, truck drivers are responsible for checking their trucks and noting any defects in a log, known as an inspection schedule.
"It could be that they don't know (about the schedule) because I know that we come across it all the time … You ask them to surrender their inspection schedule and they look at you with a glazed-over look and they don't have a clue what you're talking about," Hinsperger said.
"Oftentimes, they go looking for it and 10 minutes later they find it buried in a book somewhere behind the seat or whatever. Quite frankly, it's not been used since it was put in the truck."
If police find a defect not recorded in the schedule, the driver can be charged. If it has been recorded but not fixed, the company can be charged.
A safety blitz in August in Kitchener inspected 185 trucks and commercial vans. Most of them were transport trucks. Half of them were ordered out of service.
That's not to suggest that half of the trucks on the road are unsafe. Many of the trucks inspected in the blitz were pulled over because they looked suspect.
One case that sticks in Hinsperger's mind is a tractor-trailer found to have inoperative trailer brakes.
"The trailer was taken out of service. That's just a recipe for disaster," he said.
"We had a crash two days ago and the truck went through a red light and was involved in a collision. One of the comments from the driver was, 'Well, my brakes failed.' So we ended up seizing the truck and doing an inspection on it. It was taken out of service."
A common infraction found in the blitz was poorly secured loads. Other problems include bad tires, worn and twisted safety chains and leaking brake fluid.
All trucks and trailers weighing more than 4,500 kilograms must be inspected annually at a ministry-licensed facility. But the blitzes can happen any time. They're held in Waterloo Region six to eight times a year.
"In the end, the vast majority of things that we find are stuff that the drivers — had they done a proper inspection — would have caught right before they even got on the road," Hinsperger said.
Beghetto said most trucking companies only hire professional, safety-conscious drivers.
"Is there an underbelly in this industry that sort of, because they need freight moved, will hire anybody, will put anybody behind the truck? Yeah, we don't deny that there are elements that do exist and we think that a mandatory entry-level training program would go a long ways to putting an end to that."
Hinsperger said it isn't always the big companies that make safety paramount.
"There are some larger companies that have heavier out-of-service rates than others."
He said companies that employ a safety officer overseeing the fleet often have better safety records.
"I can think of several companies off the top of my head that are very, very good, clean companies. I can't even think of a time when one of their trucks was taken off the road or out of service because they're just very good operators and they make sure their equipment is safe to go and the drivers do their proper inspections.
"So at all levels they're practising due diligence. Where other companies come to mind and I can almost guarantee if I pull their trucks over they're going to be taken out of service for something," he said.
"Some of them look at it … well, what are the chances of getting stopped? It's a bit of a cat-and-mouse game."
In a bad economy, more companies put off spending money on safety, Hinsperger said.
"Typically, the worse the economy gets, we find the worse the state of the trucks are on the road because the companies aren't investing in maintenance. So that tends to go hand in hand."
Hinsperger is chair of the Ontario Police Commercial Vehicle Committee, which helps pool police resources across the province to do things like safety blitzes. It also offers training to officers in truck safety issues and regulations.
Hinsperger was a truck driver for 12 years.
"I drove for some very good companies. Some of those companies that have been around forever. There's a reason they've been around forever because they take safety seriously."
Poor maintenance isn't the only issue. Driver fatigue is a big problem, Evers said.
Commercial drivers are required by law to take a period of eight consecutive hours off after driving for 14 hours. Not everyone follows the rule.
"I met a truck driver and he used to go to California and back in one go, with no sleep," Evers said. "And, of course, how does he do that? With some blow. So many truckers do that up and down the road to keep going.
"I hold myself in high esteem, which is a dying breed out in the trucking industry. It's getting bad. It's sliding downhill big time. People are starting not to care in the job. It's hard to give a damn when you see everyone else not."
Trucks by the numbers
2: Number of football fields it takes for a truck going 90 km/h to come to a stop. Higher speeds dramatically increase the length needed.
5 or less: Average number of hours of sleep per day for long-haul truck drivers in Canada and the U.S., according to a small survey.
8th: Where truck drivers rank in top 10 deadliest occupations in U.S. Fatality rate is six times the U.S. average.
13: Per cent of fatal heavy vehicle collisions blamed on driver fatigue, according to one study. Other studies have put it as high as 31 per cent.
93: Number of trucks and commercial vans ordered out of service in August blitz in Kitchener. Inspectors checked 185 vehicles.
97: Per cent of Canadian truck drivers who are men.
109: Number of fatalities in collisions involving large trucks in 2010 in Ontario.
700,000: Number of trucks in Canada. About 420,000 are used to carry freight commercially.
Sources: Transport Canada, Ontario Ministry of Transportation, U.S. Department of Transportation, Canada Cartage, saferoads.org.