THUNDER BAY — Growing concerns within the highway trucking sector about safety have prompted the group that represents Ontario's trucking industry to reach out to drivers.
"Increasingly, the Ontario Trucking Association is getting more and more phone calls from both fleet operators and drivers, along with other correspondents, with regards to highway safety, and particularly their concerns in Northern Ontario," said Stephen Laskowski, president of the Ontario association and the Canadian Trucking Alliance.
A survey recently launched by the association had already received 400 responses by Tuesday.
"It's going right to the professional source, that is the truck drivers who drive those roads on a daily basis, to get their feelings with regards to highway safety in Northern Ontario. What are the issues, and what are the solutions?" Laskowski said.
The survey is available in English, French and Punjabi, and requires participants to enter no personal or corporate information.
Fleet owners are being asked to circulate it among their drivers while encouraging them to complete it.
"The calls and emails to OTA continue to increase from fleets that truck drivers have concerns about deteriorating highway safety conditions across Northern Ontario...Input from professional drivers and fleets who operate through Northern Ontario every day is essential for OTA's board to develop effective positions," association chair James Steed of Stratford-based Steed Standard Transport stated in a posted message.
Laskowski added that the information collected in the survey should be considered as "strong feedback" by the industry and by the provincial government.
"This isn't somebody calling into a radio show or writing into a column. It's a considerable amount of drivers, [potentially] all saying the same thing. Our board then, who consists of the ownership group, have reviewed that. You can't presume the process but they will have discussed the driver recommendations, and one would assume would support them, and then move forward with the government of Ontario with recommendations. And that's strength, and that's how you develop public policy and effective public policy."
Concerns emerging from the survey could include issues such as highway maintenance standards — particularly in the winter — and driver training, but Laskowski identified "the conduct of drivers on the road, both truck drivers and passenger vehicles" as something that's not unique to Northern Ontario.
"Let's not presume the process. Let's see what the survey says. There's all kinds of room for drivers to provide their feedback and analysis. We've opened up the survey to get down to the crux of the issue."
He said he's optimistic the government will be receptive to recommendations the OTA may make after analyzing the survey results.
"This government has shown a great willingness to work with the trucking industry...You have to start somewhere, you have to start a process, and this is the beginning of the process of an informed dialogue, and that's critical to solving any problem."
Laskowski said any potential solutions could be short-term, medium-term or long-term.