Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Commercial Trouble on the 881

I have often written in this blog about safety on the highways leading into our community, particularly Highway 63. In recent months, though, I have become increasingly concerned about another highway that runs through our region, and that has seen a heavy increase in traffic as we have grown in both population and industry.

I have driven on Highway 881 a number of times in my twelve years here, but far more often than usual in the last year as I found myself headed to Conklin for work purposes. The increased traffic on this narrow little highway is of genuine concern, particularly now that it has become a popular alternate route for commercial traffic especially as we have seen an increase in industry in that corridor. And that is why this story is deeply, deeply troubling:

What in the name of holy hell is going on here, people? Of 200 private and commercial vehicles inspected a whopping 85 percent of the commercial vehicles were deficient and pulled off the road? 85 percent! That's an absurdly high number, and one which should cause grave concern for everyone in the commercial fleet business as well as the rest of us who travel the local highways. But it only gets worse:
Police nabbed a 23-year old man driving at 164 kilometres per hour in a 100 zone. 

On Saturday, Mounties organized several checkstops. The enforcement resulted in two drivers being issued 72 hour suspensions for alcohol levels above the legal limit. Police also issued a 17 year old male driver a 24 hour suspension for using marihuana prior to operating a motor vehicle. 

On the same evening, a 61-year old man was caught red-handed with open liquor in the cab of a semi truck. Upon closer inspection, police realized that the man was not licenced to drive the semi and that that both the truck and the trailer were unregistered.
Look, if you aren't alarmed you should be. These individuals are driving commercial vehicles often capable of causing massive damage in accidents, including fatalities. We are sharing the roadways with intoxicated drivers, speeders, those who are not even licenced to drive the category of vehicle they are found operating and vehicles that are deficient in some regard.

This is a black eye for everyone involved in commercial driving, too. I know professional drivers, and they take their business seriously because their lives and the lives of those around them depend on their professionalism.

So, my question is this: what are the companies who employ these drivers doing about this situation? It would appear we have a serious issue here and one that needs to be addressed immediately. While law enforcement has a role to play I think it is up to those who employ drivers who are failing to act in a professional manner to ensure that this behaviour is not tolerated. I would also suggest that industry must play a role here too and ensure that the commercial fleet services they are using to transport their goods have clean records, including records noting that the vehicles themselves are in good condition. And maybe, just maybe, the time for fines is over and we start looking at jail time for individuals like this one:

As part of this checkstop Police had interactions with a 61 year old male who had open liquor in the cab of a semi truck.   The male was subsequently taken into Police custody and provided a sample of his breath that resulted in a 72 hour suspension.  Further Police checks then showed that the male did not have a proper class of licence to operate the semi truck and had no air brake endorsement.  Both the semi-truck and the trailer were both un-registered as well.  The driver was issued eight violation tickets for various offences. 

Violation tickets? 72-hour suspension? Do the words "tap on the hand" mean anything to anyone? If we cannot give our law enforcement and courts the power to take these matters seriously and mete out appropriate punishment then perhaps it is time to revisit the penalties for taking the safety and well-being of others so lightly and treating it with such disdain and disregard.

I travel on Highway 881, and I am anticipating doing so more often in the future. So do my friends and family, and it is very likely that you may do so, too. I suspect I won't be the only one viewing commercial vehicles with some degree of suspicion after this. This is a wake up call for all of us, including the commercial fleet industry. The only question that remains, then, is what they plan to do about it, because our lives are depending on them. 


  1. They need to start publishing the names of these commercial carriers (and the names of the companies commissioning the carriers services) who's drivers are found committing offences. Perhaps if these companies know they will be 'harrassed' with calls,flooded with angry e-mails and bad press,and their company name and logo spread across social media,they will also commit,..commit to ensuring much more attention paid to hiring practises, including extensive background checks for previous offences and proper training, commit to a zero tolerance policy for offending drivers!! Companies found to have repeated offences against their drivers should face the very real possibility of losing their business licenses as well!! Ultimately,these actions would 'weed out' the offenders, and require future professional drivers to commit to safe and responsible driving practises. The whole concept of 72hr. suspensions makes a mockery of the attempts to change perceptions and dangerous practises,..they are really just insulting to those of us who are committed in our own right, committed to safe, conscious driving, everytime we get behind the wheel.

  2. Sad thing isn't it?!?! I work in transportation as a company safety advisor and let me tell you, I 100% blame Alberta Transportation "Carrier Services" auditing system for this. ANY person can get a "safety fitness certificate" to operate Semi Trucks in Alberta. Alberta Transportation monitors trucking companies by a grading scale of 1-4. At a level 3 they send u a warning, once you reach close to level 4 you get a notice that your company is being audited, which means to many drivers have been in accidents, ticketed, put out of service during check stops, etc. Even if you fail the audit you get smacked on the finger with a couple thousand dollar of fines and back on the road (AB Trans gives trucking companies the benefit of the doubt they will change and say "pay us" this $200.00-$5000.00 fine and will forgive you! Without going back at ANY time to the company and making sure they have fixed the issues why they failed, I know first hand this happens). Trust me if I was the transport minister I would definitely be cracking down on trucking companies and pulling away more of the "safety fitness certificates" in this province to get the bad companies off the roads! Maybe one reason why I'm quitting the trucking industry myself, cause I know to many bad things and that our current transportation system is failing us! Not to mention Commercial Vehicle Enforcement is so understaffed which is why the check stops aren't open often!