Highway safety advocates in Canada and the U.S. want to put the brakes on a Canadian plan they say will cost lives by allowing sleep-impaired truck and bus drivers on highways. At the same time, the ongoing debate in Canada over black boxes continues as well.
At issue is a proposal by the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators that could see drivers working 14-hour days -- up to 84 hours in a seven-day period with a just one night of rest, according to the Ottawa Citizen.
If adopted this winter, the plan would give Canada ''by far the most lax regulations for truck driver work hours in the western world,'' said Bob Evans, executive director of Ottawa-based CRASH, Canadians for Responsible and Safe Highways. CRASH estimates the plan could cost up to 70 lives a year in big-truck collisions.
Overall, Canada's highway death toll declined steadily last decade, but the percentage of deaths involving large trucks climbed steadily from 16.5 percent to 20 percent, according to Transport Canada.
Gerald Donaldson, senior researcher at Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety in Washington, calls the plan ''a disgrace'' that violates everything known about drivers' need for sleep, the effects of shift work and the impact of fatigue on alertness and performance.
He sees it as an attempt to allow trucking industry practices similar to those found for decades in Australia. ''They pay the price in Australia and Canadians will pay the price in Canada for trying to work people 14 hours,'' Donaldson predicts.
Ninety Ontario municipalities have passed resolutions opposing longer weekly hours for truckers, while Teamsters Canada, the largest truck drivers' union, strongly opposes its members spending 14 hours on the road.
Brian Orrbine, a Transport Canada senior policy adviser on motor carrier safety, defends the plan as an improvement on current federal regulations that can be interpreted to allow up to 104 hours of driving weekly. ''In a seven-day period, the common work week as we know it can be up to 104 hours today,'' said Orbine.
Currently, trucking companies can send drivers out on one of three cycles -- seven-day, eight-day or 14-day work periods. When drivers reach their legal limit for hours under one cycle, they are switched to a higher cycle.
Coinciding with the hours of service issue, another debate is brewing among Canadian trucking officials. While the recent hours of service proposal in the United States would require black boxes be mandatory on regional and long-haul big rigs, a similar Canadian proposal wouldn't make the electronic devices mandatory. A member of Transport Canada’s expert advisory panel, Alison Smiley, released a report that stated strong support for the black boxes. ''Transport Canada must ensure that limits on drivers' hours are enforced. Electronic recorders would greatly assist in simplifying enforcement," Smiley said in her report.
Transportation critics say the issue "should be on the table'', and suggest that log books kept by drivers can invite ''a fair amount of abuse'' because there is pressure on drivers to maximize their time on the road.
Transport Canada is talking with Quebec officials about developing a study to test the effectiveness of electronic recorders.