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“So many different elements come into play with truck drivers. They don’t want to lose their position unloading at the mill or loading in the bush. In the summer if they get behind a Winnebago that’s going slow, it throws off their whole timeline and they’re going to try to pass. If they get a flat tire, they may not get their three loads a day, and without those three loads they may not be able to make payments, or afford to take their families on a vacation. Or maybe they will just run some old tires a little longer than they should to save money.”
In northern B.C. alone, 25 logging truck drivers have been killed in the past 10 years, with an average of five a year for the province according to the B.C. Central Interior Logging Association. Most of those deaths occur on forestry roads, but a growing number are taking place on the highway where there is a greater chance of injuries and deaths to the public. Hunt says that’s because the closure of mills and increase of raw log export has resulted in longer hauls down the highway.
Hunt says one way to fix the problem is to pay logging truck drivers by the hour instead of per load. There would be less pressure to move quickly, employers would be more conscious of the hours worked because of overtime laws, and drivers would get more time to rest and maintain their vehicles. However, given the fact that most logging truck drivers are contractors or work for contractors, Hunt knows it will be difficult to change the current system no matter how unpopular it is among the drivers themselves.
“It’s a huge public safety issue,” he said. “If truck drivers are doing 16, 17, 18 hours a day, and they’re out there with school buses, with families driving in their cars, and other commercial drivers, it’s massively huge.
“Some are suggesting now that it’s an ICBC problem. It’s not. It’s not the RCMP’s problem, it’s not the Ministry of Forests problem, it’s everybody’s. We have to look at is as a society — do we want people who are exhausted driving big logging trucks on our highways? I know I don’t.”
Recognizing the growing risk of logging trucks on the highway, B.C.’s newly appointed forest safety ombudsman called on the provincial government last January to introduce a certification program for log haulers to ensure that only trained, qualified people can get behind the wheel. But as a result of a shortage of drivers, the industry is now hiring people they would not have considered in the past.