Despite recent carnage, number of truck-related deaths on province’s highways is declining

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You’d be forgiven for being leery of venturing onto Southwestern Ontario’s 400-series highways after four big-rig pileups in less than two weeks.

But while the unlikely rash of truck crashes — two in Chatham-Kent, another two in Sarnia — sounds like the stuff of white-knuckle driving, it actually bucks the Ontario trend, according to provincial figures.

The number of truck-related deaths on Ontario highways is falling — down three per cent between 2010 and 2014 — while the number of big rigs on the road rose by 12 per cent over the same period, according to the latest data available from the province’s Transportation Ministry.

But you’d never know by the recent carnage along the Southwestern Ontario corridor.

In Chatham-Kent, a pair of weekend crashes, both involving transport trucks near a construction zone, killed two people and sent several others to hospital.

On July 19, a 61-year-old trucker from Alabama was killed when a transport truck slammed into a line of big rigs on Highway 402 waiting to cross the international Blue Water Bridge; days later, on the same stretch of the 402, a three-transport pileup flipped one rig on its side — two crashes so dramatic, they prompted Sarnia-Lambton MPP Bill Bailey and Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley to send letters to Ontario Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca.

“There’s a large concern,” said Bradley.

“It’s a highly populated residential area.”

In Ontario, large truck crashes account for one in five road deaths, second only to pedestrian collisions. But only 33 per cent of truckers involved in fatal crashes were driving improperly, according to ministry statistics from 2014.

It’s a number the Ontario Trucking Association wants to drive even lower.

“The trend is going the right way. So then we need to look at can we get better, and the answer is yes,” said Stephen Laskowski, president of the industry group.

“You have to look in the mirror first. Let’s look at what we can control.”

The association, which represents trucking companies across the province, wants to address both the driver error and mechanical issues that cause collisions.

From July 2014 to June 2017, defective trucks caused 344 collisions. Six were fatal, OPP statistics show.

Laskowski said human error accounts for most at-fault accidents.

Speed governors, already standard on Ontario’s big rigs, have gone a long way to make roads safer, said Laskowski, who wants the government to take it one step further. He hopes electronic trucker driving logs soon will be mandatory, eliminating the need for less reliable paper tracking.

“Trucks, these days, are really moving computers. There’s a lot of hardware and software in there that allows trucking companies to monitor the driving behaviour of their drivers,” said Laskowski.

“We’d have electronic tracking of drivers’ hours of service. That will obviously lead to safer drivers and less fatigued drivers.”

There are other improvements, too. Transport Canada is making electronic stability control mandatory on all new big rigs coast to coast, a feature that makes it harder for trucks to roll over in a crash.

In Ontario, mandatory entry-level training was introduced by the government last month. All would-be commercial truck drivers now must take the four- to six-week training course before completing their road test.

But road safety requires more than just diligent truckers, said Chatham-Kent OPP Const. Jay Denorer. The recipe for fewer accidents couldn’t be clearer.

“Slow down, pay attention, don’t be distracted. Slow down in construction zones,” he said.

“People try and pass and get in as quick as they can. At that point, you just cause a chain reaction collision.”

For every hour the 401 is closed, it takes about four hours to get ­traffic moving smoothly again.

“You have such a backlog behind,” he said. “It’s getting tiresome.”

With files from Jeremiah ­Rodriguez, Postmedia News

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