Dan Mowbray, a logging truck driver, standing in front of his truck. Max Winkelman photo.

Truckers talk road safety after fatal accident in Lac la Hache

Trucking safety from an industry perspective

For the past five years, Dan Mowbray has been driving a logging truck for McNeil and Sons Logging.

His most recent route is from 100 Mile House, out past Forest Grove.

The entire return trip takes about five hours. During the trip, he’s regularly talking to other drivers to let each other know if there are other vehicles coming, if there are people or animals walking on the road or anything else for which they need to slow down. After the logs are loaded on, he has to stop where he leaves the logging area to stamp his load. While stopped he also checks for branches, loose bark and rocks that could damage other vehicles. He makes a second stop to check for those things before he returns to the public road.

Mowbray’s and other logging trucks are also equipped with a tablet, that records where their truck is, as well if they’re speeding, says Mowbray. West Fraser has access to all of that data as part of an agreement to provide funding for the tablets, says Mowbray.

Being responsible for safety enforcement compliance for the company, which has about 40 employees, safety is a top priority for Mowbray.

Their trucks drive about 80,000 km a year. In their approximately 50 years in business, they were involved in one fatal collision, according to owner John McNeil. Outside of someone backing into one of their trucks, the last collision between a member of the public and one of their trucks was five years ago in which they were found not at fault, he says.

“We don’t go out there to run people off the road,” says Mowbray

The truckers’ families live in the community and drive on the roads, he says.

After a fatal accident on Jan. 10 involving a logging truck near Lac la Hache, which their company wasn’t involved in, they started seeing a lot of comments on social media criticizing truckers.

Companies can’t use social media to hold drivers accountable, says executive safety co-ordinator Nadaya McNeil.

“There’s definite ways to hold the drivers accountable. They don’t have to accept crazy drivers. Nobody should have to accept that and there’s definite ways to hold them accountable for it and it’s easy to do. And for the employer, you wanna know about that. You don’t want to have drivers out there that are endangering the public or endangering themselves. That’s the very last thing you want. So, we actually appreciate a phone call. If nothing else we appreciate a phone call much more than we would appreciate a general rant and rave on social media because you can’t do anything about that. We can do something about a phone call where if you can get the plate or whatever and then we know exactly who that is and we can go to that person and do something about whereas otherwise there’s nothing we can do.”

You don’t even need the license plate, says John. With the tablet tracking on board, the time and something like the colour of the truck is often enough. Outside of calling the trucking companies, you can also call the RCMP, Commercial Vehicle Safety and Enforcement (CVSE) or West Fraser or Norbord where most of the wood is going, he says.

“They follow up. They’ll phone the employer they can find out who it is.”

If when driving to work every morning you regularly see bad or unsafe trucking, it’s probably the same person, Mowbray adds, because they run on such a regular schedule.

Drivers are paid per cycle, as opposed to hourly, but there’s no purpose to speeding, says Nadaya

“It’s not like if they can make it in four hours and they’re gonna be doing two trips then they’re looking at having an eight hour day instead of a 10 hour day because they all go in a line and if somebody is rushing then the guy that is in front of him is gonna be mad.”

If he rushes out, he’ll just be waiting for the guy in front of him, says Mowbray. From an owner’s point of view, John says they encourage drivers not to beat the time even in great conditions.

“It’s counterproductive for us because if they’re doing a five hour cycle time in four hours and a half, pretty soon our employers will be saying ‘well, the cycle time is too long’ and they’ll cut it back. But I’ve found that the mills, especially the last four-five years are very amenable to changing those cycle times if they’re too short.”

From 2012 to 2016, on average B.C. has 290,000 crashes of which 57,000 involved injuries or fatalities with 285 fatal victims, according to ICBC (although that includes only those incidents attended by the RCMP). Of those 13,000 incidents involved heavy vehicles (which includes non-commercial vehicles such as motorhomes) with 3,200 injured victims and 58 fatal victims.

“I’ve had some close calls because of other vehicles,” says Mowbray.

He also says that the snow in the winter makes it tougher to give people extra space.

“On a summer day, you’d have a bit of leeway to go over to the fault line but in the winter time if your trailer gets over into that, you’re gonna be tossed around a little bit. I’m not sure how safe that would be to have your trailer bouncing around.

“When it snows, the road becomes, like all roads in the winter, they tend to get a little narrower because when people can’t see the road they tend to gravitate towards the middle.”

He doesn’t like to come across trucks when he’s driving a personal vehicle either, he says, because when the snow is blowing even when the trucks are driving slowly, you won’t be able to see much.

Despite the addition of the tablets, there is room for improvement, according to John.

“I think that some operators are probably lacking in their safety program that they have, their implementation of it and their enforcement of it,” he says. “I’m trying to start an initiative where there’s an actual safety enforcement person in the industry hired. There isn’t one right now, sorta like what we do in our company but throughout the whole industry here.”

“Some of these guys they might not have an office and a secretary and a place to have safety meetings or maybe they just don’t have the education to do it or the time. So I think if there was somebody in charge of the safety program that could help these other operators.”

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