In the spring of 1968, I went to work for Millar and Brown out of Cranbrook, because, not only did I have a keen interest in trucks and trucking, but also seemed to have the needed natural propensity and skills to meet the demands of trucking, which on all accounts, because of technology, were lot more demanding then. Since those days, I have seen trucking deteriorate from what was once an enviable profession where individuals were considered fortunate to ‘drive truck’, to one where companies freely and desperately advertise for anyone with a pulse to fill the ranks of a ‘driver shortage’ with competing sign-on bonuses to boot. I get that today we face increased truck traffic, demand, and all that goes along with it; however, industry-related government agencies and trucking associations alike, are staffed by people who, realistically, have no trucking background, but feel justified in telling those who do and may have made a lifelong career of trucking, just how to go about it, and so have somewhat contributed to the state of the industry. Yes, we are facing some real safety issues within the realms of today’s trucking, but as a ‘hands-on’ observer of what is taking place on our highways, I feel that the core problems resulting in the outrageous number of truck accidents we are experiencing are being ignored in favour of setting parameters for less complex but more enforceable areas.
We are simply not attracting the right people into trucking because we have taken away what used to be the motivation for an interest in a trucking career in the first place, and having to advertise overseas for foreign drivers to fill Canadian driving jobs, says it all. When you tell a driver he has to do a day’s work in reduced hours; therefore, pick up the pace, sleep on demand, grab a pre-wrapped sandwich at a ‘truck stop?!! deli’ instead of taking time for a decent break and meal without infringing on a daily window of opportunity to earn a living, sit idly by waiting for the passing of time when wide awake, and then head out on the road just when one should be hitting the bunk, and so on, you are going to have accidents, and it shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why.
As per statistical references, regulators are no doubt scratching their heads trying to figure out just why things don’t add up on paper the way they thought they would when they sat around and agreed on how to make the roads safer for us all. As far as speed limiters go, personally, 105kph is plenty fast for any commercial truck even in ideal conditions, but making them mandatory, is not going to ease up on truck accidents any more than ELD’s have, in fact, the reverse may be true and they could compound the issue.
A lot of drivers travelling the highways today, more than anything else need an attitude adjustment, and associations should be working toward making those adjustments a reality instead of not being able to distinguish the forest from the trees in trying to over-regulate an already shackled trucking environment. I have been told many times that I sound like a broken record, and that may be true, but any old ‘skinner’ from the past will agree that we drove safer when tired back then, than most drivers today ‘wide awake,’ and it has everything to do with how a driver perceives his position in maintaining what even the public acknowledged as a ‘professional’ image. In all honesty, I do wonder sometimes if we, as truckers, are getting true representation for the most critical issues at hand shaping the future of the trucking industry, from an over the road driver perspective, rather than just the whims and fancies of the upper echelons of the ‘new and improved trucking world.’
It would be unrealistic to suggest that we have to go back to the days when truckers did not have to endure all the babysitting we put up with today, but the ‘one size fits all’ strategy does not work for everyone in the industry as a whole, and it shows both in attitudes and performance out on the road. Many of the solid ‘bona fide’ truckers that I grew up around have long since left the industry that they at one time loved, simply out of disgust for what it has become. My trucking days are somewhat numbered, and I guess I might have a little more endurance and patience than most, but I’d like to maintain that the industry is not beyond repair if the agencies that created the ‘fiasco’ we call trucking of late, were to take appropriate measures to rectify the situation before we arrive at the point of no return. We all pay for the shortcomings of individuals, of course, and the media has a tendency to play some situations to the full, but the knee jerk reaction to try and appease public outcry can sometimes impact an industry in areas that are totally unrelated to the root cause of such events.
I am fully sympathetic with the terrible tragedy at Humboldt, and I am not downplaying the severity of it in the least, but if the driver, who should never have been behind the wheel of a commercial vehicle, had struck a farmer in a pickup instead of a busload of young hockey players, we would never have heard of it, even though the same disregard for driving, let alone ‘professional driving,’ was present.
Sit beside truck route traffic signals anywhere in the lower mainland, and watch the steady stream of trucks, flying through long after the lights have turned red, displaying the very same indifference to road safety as the Humboldt driver.
Years ago, the Kamloops and Horseshoe Bay runaways sparked a similar tightening of regulations and inspection criteria that, if proper training and government screening were employed from the onset, would have been unnecessary from a ‘professional’ industry’s perspective.
Speed limiters and ELD’s will have no bearing on truck accident statistics, they won’t make a guy or gal who will never have the necessary skills and dexterity to drive a truck in all types of road conditions, a better driver. Not everybody has what it takes to be a professional driver, even though they may possess a Class 1 licence. Driving in general, and particularly professional driving is still a privilege and not a right, as some would suggest. A tightening of the qualification procedure for entrance level applicants, and on a graduated basis similar to other licence classes, as an incentive to maintain a safe driving record, ease up on the restrictive issues that now discourage the proper people from entering the trucking field, just might bring the results we all hope for.