Sgt. Kerry Schmidt with OPP is seen talking to OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes at the scene of the deadly crash on Highway 400 near Highway 89 on Wednesday. (CP24/Nick Dixon)

Sgt. Kerry Schmidt with OPP is seen talking to OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes at the scene of the deadly crash on Highway 400 near Highway 89 on Wednesday. (CP24/Nick Dixon)

The trucking industry needs to take a close look at the way it conducts business in the aftermath of a deadly multi-vehicle crash that authorities believe was caused by a transport truck driver, the head of Ontario’s provincial police said Wednesday.

The OPP will do “what it takes” to end distracted driving by truckers, commissioner Vince Hawkes said near the scene of the collision on Highway 400 that killed three people.

The 14-vehicle pileup, that occurred late Tuesday, is believed to have been triggered by a transport truck crashing into slowing traffic, police said. It came just days after Hawkes put truck drivers “on notice” for being inattentive while behind the wheel.

“Unfortunately this is what we see time and time again and … the trend is getting worse,” Hawkes said, noting that commercial vehicles are involved in a quarter of fatal collisions investigated by the OPP.

“You’ll find that most of the major trucking companies are well down the line of looking at advanced (safety) technology,” Hawkes noted. “But if the driver is still distracted, whether they’re watching television or they’re texting or they’re eating a sandwich … when the traffic is stopped ahead, the devastation is going to happen.”

The Ontario Trucking Association said, however, that there was a 66 per cent decrease in the fatality rate of large truck collisions between 1995 and 2014, despite a 75 per cent rise in large truck vehicle registrations.

“It’s a reflection of the overall commitment (to safety) by management and professional truck drivers,” association president Stephen Laskowski said. “We’re one of the few industries that shares its workplace with the motoring public and we accept that responsibility, and we work towards excellence in terms of road safety.”

Technological advancements have helped cap truck speeds and improve vehicle stability, Laskowski said. But there are still some “bad apples” in the trucking world, he added.

“The vast majority of trucking companies do it right but unfortunately some don’t, and we do want to put them on notice,” he said.

The Ontario Safety League, which advocates for traffic safety, called on the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario to conduct a review of fatalities on 400-series highways involving both commercial and private vehicles.

“I don’t know what that magic bullet is,” league president Brian Patterson said of the number of traffic-related deaths in Ontario. “Is it fatigue, is it training, is it keeping distractions out of the interior of vehicles?”

Hawkes said a coroner’s inquiry into distracted driving could help resolve the issue.

“It will open up not only what … law enforcement are saying about the challenges of distracted driving on the highway, but that these trucks are in essence missiles travelling down the highway,” Hawkes said.

Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca called the crash “horrific” and said that if the coroner decides to conduct an inquest, the ministry will fully co-operate.

“I don’t believe that particular stretch of highway, from an infrastructure prospective, should be anymore dangerous than other stretches of highway,” he said. “But I do want to hear back from the OPP.”

In July, the Ministry of Transportation made it mandatory for entry-level truck drivers to go through over 100 hours of training before receiving their license.

“We don’t think that our work is done,” Del Duca said. “Whether it’s additional legislation around distracted driving or drug impaired driving or whether it’s training for our truck drivers, whether it’s working with road safety partners, the Ministry of Transportation is determined to produce safe outcomes for travelling public.”

Source: CP24