Rushed supply chains, years of unregulated training, driver shortages, and winter are a recipe for disaster on northern highways designed for a lot less traffic. The fatalities mount every winter…with a Dec. 17 collision on Highway 11 between Nipigon and Longlac adding to the toll. It brings home the danger involved in sharing the road with these huge vehicles. Who can make it safer and what are they doing to address the carnage?
There are two organizations that provide measurements of that rising toll, the OPP and the MTO. This past July, the OPP announced that between January 1 and June 30, 2021, they responded to 32 fatal crashes that involved a Commercial Motor Vehicle, compared to 23 such collisions during the same time frame last year. Given that the hours available for OPP enforcement and traffic related duties are trending down, that leaves the MTO to pick up the slack.
Unfortunately, the news on that front is not good….in 2019 the Auditor General’s Annual Report made 19 recommendations related to Commercial Vehicle Safety and Enforcement when she did a Value for Money audit on that department of the Ministry of Transportation. In the 2021 followup, the AG tabled 51 actions from those recommendations and found only 9 of them had been implemented, 13 were in the process of being implemented and 29 showed little or no progress. COVID can be blamed for part of the delay but finding ways to get things done is how more lives get saved.
The other piece of bad news is the most important recommendation, Recommendation 19, was one of the recommendations with little or no progress shown in 2021.
Knowing what to measure is critical when trying to identify ways to improve performance, but it should not take over two years to come up with relevant commercial vehicle safety specific performance indicators, particularly when considering what is at stake.
People are dying and the environment is suffering damage in the interim, so developing measures like the experience of drivers involved in crashes, the level of their training, the condition of their vehicle, and the condition of the road seem to be no brainers in terms of what is causing the upswing.
We can only hope Ms. Mulroney is able to light some fire under the appropriate derrieres to actually accomplish what was agreed to by the Ministry. Once we have an accurate picture of what is happening on our highways, we can start to implement strategies to reduce highway traffic by encouraging short haul trailer-on-flat-car intermodal services. One improvement involves better training for the industry as they deal with the dwindling number of experienced commercial drivers. The pilot program recently announced for a 2+1 lane expansion is just one piece of the puzzle. Enhanced and timely data collection and reporting should be used to build support for the other solutions that will undoubtedly be needed.
Phil Koning worked at the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission for his career, in a number of positions, from front line supervisor to union leader. After retirement in 2011, he continued his interest in government policy and uses social media to stay active in political discussions.