Sunday, February 19, 2012

TOO MANY TRUCKS ARE TOO BIG



THE TRUCK LOBBY IS SCREWING US

I was following my wife down a quiet street in central Etobicoke when she stopped suddenly. I pulled my car beside her's and asked why. She thought she had ticked a truck.
The truck in question was a monster. Great big flatbed piled with shingles with a motorized delivery gizmo hanging off the back. No bumper to stop you from having your head and the top of your car ripped off if you were unlucky enough to hit its rear.
I looked at the monster and saw nothing. Maybe a mark on the big left rear tire. Then I walked around to the passenger side of the Toyota Sienna and found $6,000 in damage - a mashed fender and side.
The driver had parked on an angle on a narrow street to argue with a homeowner who said the shingle colour wasn't right. Since he hadn't been in the monster, he refused to show me his driver's licence and really didn't give a damn. After all, his vehicle had no damage. So he went back to arguing about colour.
I won't go into detail about the hassle of reporting the accident, having the van fixed, and having TD Insurance inform me that the next time my premium would go up. (I'm sure that TD and every insurance company on earth has never lowered premiums and is quick to judge you at fault for everything to do with every accident.)
I spare you details because those were a couple of days that I would just as soon forget, along with the $500 deductible.
Since the monster was parked, albeit stupidly, the accident was ruled my wife's fault. I think her fault was driving down the narrow street in the first place because the Royal York and Bloor area is now infested with every form of truck as monster houses are rising on the nice lots where decent, but smaller, homes have stood for decades.
And the drivers of these trucks have never passed a parking test and indeed will often block traffic with their doors open etc. while they discuss why the Leafs can't play like a decent team  or who's getting the coffee.
As I write, the radio is reporting that traffic at the junction of 400 and 401 is stopped because a tractor trailer has rolled on its side like a tired sow. Nothing remarkable about that. Just watch one try to waddle around an ordinary intersection and you have just another textbook example of how authorities have allowed all forms of trucks to bloat to such size that they block streets during delivery, scare the hell out of car drivers when they zoom up inside of you, and generally behave like drunken cowboys in a poor rodeo as they snarl traffic.
Except size problems aren't the truck drivers fault. Transport companies run the biggest trucks they're allowed so they can cut down on the number of drivers they have to hire. And so a routine sight is some tractor trailer awkwardly trying to make a turn without crushing most of the cars in sight.
The politicians and traffic engineers are no help. Since even if we have legislation reducing the size, we will still have some bigger vehicles around, meaning the city must shave and adapt some major corners so that tractor trailers, buses and fire trucks can more easily make the turn
Yet the authorities defiantly or stupidly do nothing. And on occasion, out of sheer devilment I presume,  they constrict the intersection to increase the degree of difficulty.
For example, in my neighbourhood alone, we have the corners of Glenroy and Prince Edward, and Norseman and Royal York,  deliberately screwed up to handicap vehicles.
Stand at the corner of  Park Lawn and The Queensway at any hour and watch the big trucks headed for the Ontario Food Terminal have to agonize through what should be a simple turn because there's enough public land there to make it far easier.
I once got squeezed by a tractor trailer on the Ambassador Bridge between Canada and the U.S. Caught between police jurisdictions. Fortunately I ended up with just a bashed fender. And then there was the tractor trailer who rode me into a tunnel wall because the driver just didn't see me from his high cab as he pulled over on top of me. If I hadn't been a reasonably good driver in a great car, my BMW 325, I wouldn't be here today.
Such experience have left me expecting the worst when I'm driving near a truck.  I'm seldom disappointed. And there are plenty of drivers like me. I know drivers who won't use 401 because of the rolling walls of tractor trailers.
So anything that can be done by the provincial transport ministry to return us to the days when the big tractor trailers were supposed to be used between cities and their loads were then transferred to smaller trucks for deliveries inside the city.
That was the theory, more honoured in the breach than the observance.
Transport companies thought the hell with that and lobbied to reduce the number of drivers and handling time. So you have big tractor trailers and huge construction equipment routinely on the busier city streets when that should be a rare sight..
When I was kid reporter covering a Toronto Transit Commission meeting, I heard something that I just didn't believe. So I asked and asked, and my story became front-page news in the Toronto Telegram. The TTC had bought buses that were too big for the roads. Literally! Not only where they illegal, there were bridges in the suburbs where the buses grounded.
No, they didn't sell the buses. They changed the law.
When I was a director of the Ontario Safety League, an advisory group to government, the reps of the trucking industry hastened to tell us how few accidents truck drivers are involved in compared to car drivers. Tragically, it really doesn't matter if tractor trailers are involved in, say, only 3% of the accidents, they are killers when they do. The lobbyists also explain the failure rates of nearly 50% when police do safety checks on tractor trailers, saying the police target independents and not fleet trucks because big fleet operators have the resources and the will to make their trucks as safe as possible.
I don't care about the stats when I drive Nor do I listen to the lobbies who influence too many politicians with their "campaign?" contributions.  I just look around and see trucks which are almost the width of the lane. Then there are the trucks with no pretence of bumpers that would prevent serious accidents. I would rather be hit by the great metal maw of a snowplow, and heaven knows they look menacing enough, particularly the amateur version with plows wider than the pickup, than slide under the deadly innards of a tractor trailer train.
The problem with all those tractor trailers that can't make a turn without manoeuvring like a squashed turtle is that they are rolling bottlenecks. If a company really wants to use big tractor trailers to make deliveries, limit them to the hours of midnight to 6 a.m. (Did you know that in ancient Rome, the chariots and wagons were limited to night hours for deliveries.)
The evidence is all around us that the situation cries out for reform. Perhaps that will only happen when the premier's driver can't avoid some giant tractor trailer towing a pup trailer on Dalton McGuinty's trip home to Ottawa. There is no argument more vivid than the memory of being squeezed by a mass of metal.
I dream of the days when you have to go to arenas to see monster trucks.











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