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‘Completely avoidable highway carnage’

Cathy Dobson Increased enforcement may be one of the only ways to stop the string of serious truck crashes plaguing westbound Highway 402 near the border, say local OPP.

Cathy Dobson

Increased enforcement may be one of the only ways to stop the string of serious truck crashes plaguing westbound Highway 402 near the border, say local OPP.

“I can think of no other reason for these collisions than distracted driving,” said OPP Const. Chris Doupe. “I find it a bit frustrating that people suggest it’s (malfunctioning) signs, or the number of lanes or speed. What we’ve seen are the operators of commercial motor vehicles driving right into the back of stopped commercial motor vehicles.”

Three multi-tractor-trailer collisions since mid-July have resulted in one death, numerous injuries, major cleanups and lengthy highway closures.

Police say skid marks were visible in only one case, with no evident medical, which strongly points to a lack of attention to the road, said Doupe.

Lambton OPP, Ministry of Transportation (MTO) Enforcement and Sarnia Police Services are working together to find a solution to end what one officer called “completely avoidable highway carnage.”

Drivers can expect heightened police enforcement focused on commercial motor vehicles along the 402, particularly between Modeland Road to the Blue Water Bridge, where long queues of trucks form in the truck lane, waiting to clear customs and cross into Michigan.

All three serious crashes this summer involved a moving truck colliding with the last trucks in the queue.

Additional enforcement officers were out with radar last Wednesday and Thursday and laid 102 charges, said Doupe, adding that 52 were against truck drivers, ticketed for speeding, not staying in the truck lane, using handheld communication devices, not wearing seatbelts and following too close to other vehicles.

Failure to remain 60 metres behind when travelling 60 km/hr or more, results in a $110 ticket, Doupe said.

A study completed in July by the MTO concluded that 90% of commercial traffic along that stretch of the 402 was going 90 km or more in a 70 km zone.

But Doupe is convinced that lowering speed limits won’t help.

“Drivers are being inattentive and careless,” he said. “It’s ridiculous.”

The carnage is taking a terrible toll on human life, families that lose a loved one, and emergency response personnel who have to deal with the consequences of horrific accidents, Doupe added.

Others agree and say the solution may be more truck driver education.

“Speed is not a major factor,” said Sarnia’s Steve Bida, an instructor with the 5th Wheel Training Institute in Warwick. “We’ve talked about this a lot here and most believe this is about not paying attention.”

Drivers have a lot of paperwork to prepare before clearing customs and could be distracted by it as they approach the Blue Water Bridge, he said.

“Following too close is also a major problem,” said Bida. “One of the biggest things we teach our student drivers is they should be two to three truck lengths behind.”

The MTO has equipped the approach to the bridge with six enormous warning signs when trucks are queued. One overhead variable message board is the largest of its kind in Ontario. Installing more won’t help, said Bida.

“We teach these guys to back her down and give themselves space,” he said. “Courtesy among truck drivers has gotten pretty bad. We teach our guys to give courtesy and let other drivers get around you.

“It’s better to let someone pass rather than follow too close.”

Some trucking companies use dash cameras to record driver performance, Bida added.

That means drivers know they will be penalized if they drive too close and it stops them from distracted behaviors.

“I think all trucks should have the cameras,” he said. “They would really help with enforcement and would also protect drivers who haven’t done anything wrong.”

Local politicians are also doing what they can to stop serious crashes.

Mayor Mike Bradley and MPP Bob Bailey have asked for a meeting with Ontario’s Minister of Transportation Steven Del Duca.

Both Bradley and MP Marilyn Gladu say staffing shortages on the U.S. side of the border are contributing to backups in Canada.

“The Americans have not been processing trucks quickly enough,” said Bradley.

Not only is there injury and loss of life, it’s bad for the economy of both Sarnia and Port Huron, he said. “It’s very easy to become not the border of choice."

Serious truck pileups have occurred this summer on:

- July 19 when an Alabama driver of an 18-wheeler, 61-year-old Dannie Faulk, died and two other drivers suffered minor injuries just west of Indian Road.

- July 25 when three trucks crashed near Christina Street and a 27-year-old operator from Quebec was charged with careless driving. Minor injuries resulted.

- August 20 when a tractor-trailer driven by a 40-year-old Hamilton man slammed into the back of two transports that were stopped. The operator was charged with careless driving. Minor injuries and a six-hour cleanup resulted.

BY THE NUMBERS (Source: Lambton OPP)

189 - Number of collisions on Hwy 402 since 2011.

34 – Number involving injuries from those collisions.

3 – Number of deaths, all involving tractor-trailers.

40 – Number of collisions occurring during stopped traffic at the border since 2011.

1,500 – Average number of trucks crossing into the U.S. daily along westbound Hwy 402.

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