On the Road

Whaddya Think of Those Canucks, Eh?

March 11, 2013

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Bison Transport, based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, took top honors in the over 25 million annual miles category.
Bison Transport, based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, took top honors in the over 25 million annual miles category.

For the second time, two Canadian truckload fleets earned top honors in the Truckload Carriers Association National (maybe it should be International?) Fleet Safety Awards.

Bison Transport, based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, took top honors in the over 25 million annual miles category, while Brian Kurtz Trucking of Breslau, Ontario, grabbed the brass ring in the fewer than 25 million annual miles category.

I'm not sure simply being Canadian is enough to push these two fleets to such exalted levels. Both are extremely well run companies, one considerably smaller than the other, but both with cultures and missions that put safety ahead of almost everything else.

Bison is a pioneering company in Canada's bourgeoning LCV (turnpike doubles programs) and the first carrier in the country to participate in trial runs in Saskatchewan's triple-53-foot trailer program. They wouldn't get that assignment by being a name drawn from of a hat. The award handed down by TCA in March confirms Bison's commitment to safety. Bison placed 9th on Today's Trucking magazine's Top 100 carriers list this year, with 1,208 tractors, 3,561 trailers and 429 owner-operators. By U.S. standards, Bison is a mid-sized company at best.

For the record, Bison Transport is now a four-time winner of the 25 million mile category, earning the title in 2007, '10, '11 and '12. BKT is now a two-time winner, having previously claimed top spot in 2011.

Brian Kurtz Trucking remains a family-owned and operated company, with about 50 tractors, fewer than 100 trailers and a handful of owner-operators. BKT wasn't even close to the TT Top 100 list, with the smallest company showing 288 tractors and 192 trailers. Still, they run spotless equipment, have a loyal driver force and never get their name in the paper for the wrong reasons.

Not a working part of the Brian Kurtz fleet, this splendid 1944 Kenworth was restored in-house, and regularly appears at local truck shows.
Not a working part of the Brian Kurtz fleet, this splendid 1944 Kenworth was restored in-house, and regularly appears at local truck shows.

That these two winning fleets are Canadian is academic in this context. They could be based in Phoenix or Kenosha, as long as the focus on a dedication to safety remained, it really wouldn't matter where they were based.

But there is an interesting footnote to this year's National Fleet Safety Awards; of the 18 fleets listed as finalists, four were from north of the border. 

On top of that, in recent CVSA Roadcheck and Operation Airbrake exercises, Canadians had lower violation and out-of-service rates in both driver and vehicle categories. The margin was slim in most cases -- a couple of percentage points or so -- but the difference was noticeable in the scores.

That fact would probably escape notice too, except that Canadian fatal crash rates per million miles are lower than the American rates and it accomplishes that with significantly heavier trucks and significantly longer work hours for drivers. Those, the so-called safety advocates would have us believe, are the devil's own work and cannot be allowed to gain a foothold on U.S. highways.

Despite the politically charged nature of the debate on HOS and size and weight rules in the U.S., it's pretty clear that Canada's experience with both have not hurt the country's fleets' safety records. Clearly, pulling 137,000 pounds around for 13 hours a day doesn't put any undue stress on drivers or equipment or the country's National Highway System -- some of which is little better than a goat path in comparison to the Interstates we enjoy here.

It's also worth noting that three of the four Canadian semi-finalist fleets are could be considered heavy-haulers, that is, they run 6-axle combos loaded to 105,000 pounds, and even larger 7- and 8-axle combos.

Improved efficiency is nothing to fear. Nor, apparently, does it get in the way of a winning safety record. 

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Author Bio

Jim Park

Equipment Editor

Truck journalist 13 years, commercial driver 20 years. Joined us in 2007. Specializes in technical/equipment material (including Tire Report), brings real-world perspective to test drives.

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