TORONTO, ON – Charges have been laid and changes are coming to the way police officers investigate and enforce dangerous driving behaviors involving commercial vehicle drivers in Ontario.
In a morning press conference Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Commissioner Vince Hawkes announced charges against commercial vehicle drivers in three separate incidents that occurred this year on Ontario 400 series highways.
A Brampton, Ontario, man is charged with two counts of dangerous driving causing death in the Aug. 3 crash that took the lives of Todd Gardiner, 26, and Michael Glazier, 35, cousins who were driving in a pickup truck on Highway 401 near Port Hope, Ontario.
A second Brampton driver is charged with two counts of dangerous driving causing death, two counts of dangerous driving causing injury, and one count of dangerous driving following a July 30 collision that took the lives of a 45-year-old woman and her 14-year-old son, while injuring her husband and 10-year-old son, as they returned from a camping trip.
A third collision on July 27 on Highway 48 in the town of Georgina resulted in similar charges after the deaths of two and injuries to three more people, including a 10-year-old boy who was a passenger in an SUV.
The OPP also discussed charges that were laid against Quebec driver Dunhill Tabanao who was involved in a May 2017 crash that killed four people on Highway 401 outside of Kingston, Ontario. Tabanao is facing four counts of dangerous operation of a vehicle causing death and two counts of dangerous operation causing bodily harm.
Police say all four crashes stemmed from the inattention of drivers, resulting in a failure to slow down as they entered construction zones.
Hawkes said that as the cases are before the courts, he could not discuss evidence, including whether any of the drivers were on their cell phones, or had fallen asleep behind the wheel.
He called the incidents “inattention at its worst,” and said the sudden increase in deadly collisions involving commercial drivers highlighted the need for increased patrols on Ontario highways and the possibility of increased measures against commercial truck drivers – including vehicle seizure.
Hawkes said the OPP will be looking at consulting with the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO), as well as those in the industry, to better understand why these collisions happened and to develop a new strategy for dealing with commercial vehicle drivers who drive while distracted or outside their Hours of Service.
Hawkes said that strategy could include the seizure of vehicles if a driver is seen to be acting in an unsafe manner. The police need to make use of all the tools that are available to them and act immediately to ensure the safe of the public, he said.
Marco Beghetto of the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) said he agreed with the OPP sentiment that the trucking industry does not want to see unsafe drivers on the road.
Both the OPP and the OTA reiterated that commercial vehicle drivers are some of the safest on the road, but said the actions of what Beghetto called “a few bad apples” needs to be addressed.
The OTA has been asking for a committee to be struck between themselves, the OPP, and MTO, Beghetto said, and is pleased to see that it will be happening in the coming weeks. The committee will address issues of safety and enforcement and work towards developing a plan to combat incidents like these.
As for the seizure of vehicles, the OTA says a law already exists in Ontario that allows the impounding of commercial vehicles and police must follow specific criteria when doing so.
Beghetto says if the OPP would like to review the criteria for impounding a vehicle, that is something they can talk about during the upcoming committee meetings.
The OPP presented statistics in the press conference that said there have been 56 crashes involving commercial vehicles so far in 2017 and 57 deaths resulting from those crashes – up from previous years.
The OTA says they haven’t seen the OPP’s statistics, but called them anecdotal, and said they needed to be weighed against statistics from other sources before it could be determined if they were accurate.
Beghetto says the OTA is preparing a document to be released in the next week that will offer drivers and fleets help in addressing and combatting distracted driving.