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Vanthof sees a passenger’s view from the cab of transport

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When there is only one highway corridor carrying the majority of traffic through the region, road closures and road safety become concerns of paramount importance.  Although winter road maintenance is often named as a factor in accidents, statistics show that an increase in traffic collisions are occurring with regularity during spring, summer and fall and accidents involving commercial vehicles are increasing at an alarming rate. I have raised the issue of increased collisions on our Northern highways in the Ontario legislature and discussed it with the Minister of Transportation on several occasions.

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I have posted some of my speeches on social media and have been privileged to receive comments, advice, recommendations and accolades from individual truckers, industry magazines and trucking associations from across the country.

Among the many responses I received was an invitation from Shawn Poirier, a former political opponent who offered me an opportunity to participate in a ride-along with him so I could experience what truck drivers deal with on a daily basis on our highways.

In the 2018 Provincial election, Shawn was the successful candidate who represented the Northern Ontario Party. He ran a good campaign, stayed on the issues and although we opposed each other on political approach, it was obvious that his intention was to serve the people within the Riding of Timiskaming-Cochrane in the best way possible. I knew Shawn before the 2018 election, back in the day when I was a dairy farmer in the Earlton area, Shawn often picked up our milk as he was a driver with Northern Milk Truck Transportation company in Earlton so we shared a few memories of the agricultural industry as well.

I truly appreciated the personal invitation from Shawn and his employer, Grant Transport that allowed me to accept this opportunity. My trip with Shawn started in Temiskaming Shores, we then headed north to Cochrane where we picked up wood chips and delivered them to the Rayonier plant in Temiscamingue Quebec with a return trip back to Temiskaming Shores. I decided to call it a day when we arrived in the Grant Transport yard but Shawn had some driving hours remaining for the day so decided to pick up a second load at a more local location to be ready for the next day’s run.

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Time is incredibly important to a trucker. They have a computerized system in the truck that monitors every detail of the trip which includes the length of driving time for each 24 hour period. When we left the Grant Transport yard at 4:30 am on Tuesday morning, Shawn had 11 hours and change  of driving time available for that day. When we returned from Temiscamingue, he had a couple of hours left on the clock which was enough time to make a short run, and when you are paid by the km and not by the hour, it is important to use the available time wisely. Should he exceed his allowable hours, he could be fined because the monitoring system can be viewed by both his employer and the Ministry of Transportation (MTO).

I learned a great deal about the difference between driving a vehicle on the highway and driving a transport truck fully loaded with whatever’s being hauled that day. Sitting in the cab of a transport offers a completely different viewpoint than riding in your personal vehicle.  A car decided to pass Shawn on a hill then move back into our lane directly in front of the truck. Reaction time in a transport is much slower because of the weight and momentum of the entire unit, in that instance I quickly recognized how a seemingly inconsequential action by a passenger vehicle can cause an issue for a transport driver.

People seldom realize how wind can impact driving conditions but when a transport is hauling a high, empty trailer like the type used for wood chips, you can feel the wind making its presence known.  The road and all of its unevenness is very prevalent from the seat of a transport, much more so than what you experience in a passenger vehicle.

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When transport drivers need to stop on the narrow shoulder area of northern highways, it can create a dangerous situation. The roadsides are often narrow with little or no pavement or the gravel shoulder is soft and unsafe because of weather conditions. Pull over in the wrong spot and the truck driver could be stuck or even worse, the transport could slide into the ditch or the load could sift and tip the entire unit over.

For a transport driver, parking is always at a premium. When a truck driver is tired or their driving time is running out, they need a safe space to pull over and rest so they are always watching for possible parking spots in convenient locations. There are truck stops in Temiskaming Shores and Cochrane but not many in-between. The same problem exists  in North Bay and Temiskaming Shores, or Verner to Temiskaming Shores. It can create a stressful situation, especially for drivers who might not be familiar with the lack of availability for parking and restroom facilities in those areas.

Truck driving is a profession that requires skill, patience and proper training. Shawn Poirier was a great ambassador for those drivers in the industry who respect their profession and drive safely regardless of the conditions. . We need to respect them as well.

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