Monday, March 02, 2009

Watch You Speed – Or Technology Will For You

Last Friday, the Toronto media was hyping a mega-rolling-roadblock which was to disrupt Canada’s largest morning rush hour come Monday.

Today, that travelling roadblock never happened.

Over 200 big rig trucks were supposed to descend upon Queen’s Park – the Ontario legislator – mid-morning, protesting the province’s mandate requiring all large trucks to have functioning speed limiters. Prior to their arrival, they were to proceed from central areas of the province, in a convoy of sorts, slowing traffic during the peak of rush hour.

Only a handful of trucks actually made it to the destination, and traffic chaos was averted. But not because the issue was resolved – the truckers just didn’t show up.

Regardless of their numbers, the truck drivers have the right idea.

The Ontario government is requiring all trucks – even ones from outside the province – to have mechanical devices which limit their maximum speed to 105km/hour. They claim lower reduces accidents.

The truckers say it isn’t the odd truck speeding to blame for all accidents. Many are caused by the weather, other drivers, and even their own truck driver error. They say, limiting a truck’s top speed can actually cause accidents, because then the driver won’t be able to accelerate when needed.

There are times when trucks do speed – just as in any profession, there are bound to be a few bad apples in the bunch.

But for the most part, truckers are highly skilled and well trained in far more road safety prevention than the average Canadian motorist.

Limiting the top speed a truck can travel may prevent a truck driver from actually performing a necessary task, which could lead to an accident or worse, a fatality on our roads.

There are other safety issues in trucking which need more of our government’s attention, than forcing them to limit their speed. Drivers are often placed on outrageous time tables, where the only way they can arrive at their destination in time is to drive non-stop for days.

There have been more incidents caused by truck drivers falling asleep at the wheel, than speeding over the past 10-years. No one can go without sleep, no matter how many “Red Bulls” – or other high caffeine beverages – one consumes.
The laws have been put in place, but the industry still for the most part regulates itself in terms of ensuring drivers get enough down time.

Technology is an amazing thing. Through technology we can keep track of where our shipments by truck go, thanks to Global Positioning Systems (GPS). That same GPS technology even is useful by the drivers, using real-time maps and satellite imaging so they can find their way. But technology can’t be a be-all end-all to preventing accidents.

Using technology to limit a truck drivers speed is just a lazy-ass excuse to avoid the real issues of safety – lack of sleep.

Even fitting trucks with so-called “deadman peddles” isn’t the answer. These devices force the operator of the truck to interact with them, either by pushing a peddle, or a button over a period of time, to ensure the driver hasn’t fallen asleep. If the deadman peddle isn’t pushed in time, it will turn off the engine.
Deadman peddles have been used in planes and trains for years, with mixed results. Early versions could – and often were – disabled, simply by placing a heavy item on the peddle, like a brick or a lunch box. Newer versions require several items to be pushed, but even these can still be tricked by those sneaky enough to do so.

The real solution to safer trucking is more enforcement, to ensure truckers aren’t being forced to deprive themselves of much needed sleep, to get their goods to the market in time.

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