British Columbia’s highways are famous for the terrain and beauty in the summer months, but as the start of winter approaches, I’m reminded of their infamy for deaths and treacherous conditions that they turn into come the cold Canadian winter months.
This past week, the serious nature of the dangers for those who travel on these roads reared up and bit another young trucker.
An All Too Common Occurrence
Traveling westbound, I caught up to a driver who was climbing the Rogers Pass. I was attempting to overtake him, when, close to the end of a passing stretch, he chose to swerve towards me with no turn signal on, then click on the turn signal for one blink—instead of just easing up a little. I figured this driver didn’t want me in front of him, so I backed out of the throttle and followed him up the hill.
Those who travel this road regularly will know there is another passing stretch between a couple of the narrow snow sheds, and after following the driver to that point, I felt it would be in my best interest to stay behind him. He appeared to be tired and more interested in what I was doing behind him than where his position in the travel lane was; he was wandering back and forth, shoulder to center line and back again.
As we crested the hill, it was apparent that the driver was in a hurry and was not going to let anything slow him down.
I hadn’t been paying close attention to my speed as I followed him, but when I looked down at the speedometer, I realized that we were exceeding the posted limit by a considerable amount. Discretion being the better part of valor, I slowed down and returned to my lethargic and controlled travel speed. As I started down the west side of the pass, I could just see his taillights enter one of the curves at the bottom of the hill. It was the last curve on a highway that this truck and trailer would ever negotiate.
By the time the truck entered the next 50km/h curve, it was surely apparent to the driver that a serious error in judgment had been made. In the 30 or so seconds between him and I, this young driver’s life would be changed forever.
The truck he was driving lost control, rolled onto its side, slid up onto, and then over, the guardrail and flipped upside down into the oncoming stretch of highway, according to reports.
I did not see the rollover, thank goodness, and was not even aware of what had happened until I was past the scene. As soon as I figured out what had happened, I called emergency services. (I did not stop: there were several trucks heading in the other direction that had already stopped, and realistically, there is nothing that I could have done to help the situation.)
I don’t know the driver of the truck nor did I see the name on the truck. But neither of those things matter.
What matters is that this driver, it turns out, was inexperienced. While he had a beautiful truck and trailer, and a wonderful opportunity that many of us had wished we had when we first started driving, he was unable to realize the inherent dangers that were facing him as he forged ahead through the dark on one of Canada’s most beautiful, dangerous stretches of highway. It will be a number of months, if not years, before this driver is able to get behind the wheel of a truck.
It’s an all too common event happening these days on the extreme terrain and mountain passes of British Columbia, as can be evidenced by shows such as Highway Thru Hell. And I hope this winter that folks who are not familiar with the roads they travel on will take it easy, follow the posted limits and learn from others around them.
It also reminded me of how selfishly thankful I am that the late winter mishap I was involved in last year wasn’t a lot worse, and I wasn’t injured worse than I was.
As many have told me in the past, it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when and how bad.
Our Lost Self-Respect and a New Pledge
With the pressures that are placed on drivers, for on-time performance, and getting to the next load so we can make it home, I don’t see the accident rate dropping. The only way to make the roads safer is by doing it one truck at a time.
There was a time when we knew most of the truck drivers coming towards us and coming behind and in front of us. Over the last couple of decades, we as professional drivers have lost touch with each other on a personal level, and as such the respect for ourselves, and each other, has disappeared at an alarming rate.
In the interest of saving lives and saving equipment, I implore each of us to make a pledge to ourselves, our families, and each other that we do everything in our power to operate safely, with respect to ourselves and the other motorists on the highways.
It’s not about getting there first; it’s about getting there safely and in a reasonable time. A dispatcher or employer is more interested in getting their truck and load there in a time that they can rely on, not necessarily the fastest possible time, every time.
My pledge to my fellow drivers is that I will attempt to show you respect and patience, and help to improve the safety of the working environment that we find ourselves in. I only ask that you in turn do the same to me and the other motorists that travel the highways. I have a family, a wonderful, beautiful wife that I love as no other, two young boys who want to see their dad when he can get home, and a network of friends with whom I share my life. I’m sure that many of you do also.
At the end of the day, the real difference between you being ahead of me or behind me will only be a few minutes. The consequences of a bad decision may live with us for the rest of our lives.
Don’t let a moment’s aggravation lead you to a lifetime of regret and heartache.
Good luck this winter, and be safe. Someone is relying on you to get home safely.