Electronic logs in commercial vehicles could save lives

In an already unimaginably difficult sitting in a Melfort, Sask. courtroom, the suffering families of the Humboldt Broncos received another hard jab Monday.

A report filed by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Highways  indicated that Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, the driver of the semi-truck that plowed into the team bus April 6 leaving 16 dead, likely committed 70 violations of national and provincial industry regulations in the 11 days leading up to the crash and, if inspected, should have been suspended.

The majority of those infractions were related to data recorded in his log books. On the day of the accident, the authors of the report suggests timelines and distances logged raised “strong concerns.” In the days prior, they questioned whether his data was accurate and whether he may have exceeded time of service guidelines.

That information doesn’t reflect well on a driver, whose mistake will forever be an extremely cruel cautionary tale, but the worrisome statistics suggest that he isn’t the only driver to have these inconsistencies in his log book and that many more could be on Canadian roads undetected. A report from the CBC on Sidhu’s court appearance shared data from the Canadian Trucking Alliance there were an average of 9,400 convictions a year for hours of service violations between 2010 and 2015. The report said many were for failing to keep or produce logs, a quarter were for driving more than the maximum daily hours, and more than 1,000 annually were for falsifying log books.

With Hwy 401 close at hand, in more recent years it appears accidents involving commercial vehicles have become an all-too-common occurrence in this part of Ontario. One has to wonder how many of these accidents, too, have been caused by fatigued drivers. While the OPP and the Ministry of Transportation make a concerted effort to check logs and inspect vehicles, the chance of drivers sneaking through the cracks still exists.

Unlike many American states, Canada does not currently require commercial operators to use electronic, third-party verified logging technology. There is federal legislation that would mandate its use by 2020, but it offers an exemption for vehicles made before 2000. There should be no exceptions and companies should be encouraged to bring in this technology without delay. Just like ignition interlocks for those convicted of drunk driving, or phone overrides synched to a vehicle started, there is likely a way to restrict keyed operation for individuals who are not up-to-date and regulation compliant.

Moreover, if there’s a way government can effectively implement in-cab video or “black box” recorders similar to those in airplanes, they should do so. It would reduce ways to game the logging systems and it also would provide a deterrent for other ills like distracted driving. One might say that’s heading down a slippery road on the civil liberties front, but driving — especially commercially — is a permitted activity, not an absolute right. Besides, voluntary compliance should bring goodwill for operators.

Out of the senseless Humboldt tragedy, there is opportunity to limit the chances that anyone else doesn’t make it home alive. From these findings, there’s a clear path to make roads safer. It’s incumbent on government, industry and the public to embrace the technology to do just that.

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