Brother of crash victim urges B.C. truckers to slow down

Six years ago, a semi-truck hauling two trailers jackknifed and killed a California family in Kootenay National Park, despite the fact the driver was within the posted speed limit.

Want to save lives? Slow all vehicles, says U.S. expert who studied truck-involved deaths

Robert Howard, 49, and his daughter, Veronica, 9, before a semi-trailer accident killed them and Howard's wife and older daughter on a highway in Kootenay National Park on July 22, 2011. (

Six years ago, a semi-truck hauling two trailers jackknifed, killing an American family in Kootenay National Park, despite the fact its driver was within the posted speed limit.

"Once he lost control of the cab, he was just riding a 40,000-pound missile," said John Howard, the brother of the man who was killed — along with his wife and daughters — in the July 22, 2011 crash.

Robert Howard, 49, his wife, Ana-Maria Dias, 50, and their daughters Samantha, 11, and Veronica, 9 of Palo Alto, California all perished in the accident.

The driver of the semi, Jaswinder Bagri, was charged and convicted of dangerous driving.

During Bagri's trial, experts agreed the tragedy could have been averted if he had received better training and had been driving slower when he hit the fateful curve.

Veronica Howard, 9, of Palo Alto, California before her death in B.C. in 2011. (

Howard and safety advocates want to see commercial trucks drive slower in B.C. Others want speed limits for all vehicles reduced.

"Slow everyone down," said Ohio public policy researcher Grant Neeley whose study of U.S. data suggested that reducing speed limits would have saved 561 lives over 15 years.

While the number of accidents involving commercial vehicles in B.C. is 19 per cent lower than in 2007, crashes that do occur are devastating.

Last week, a five-vehicle smash involving three semi-trucks closed Highway 1 near Langley B.C. for nine hours.

Police are still investigating the cause.

Police say three semi-trucks, a commercial truck and a van were involved in a crash on Highway 1 near Langley B.C. on July 14. (Shane MacKichan)

Depite the fact that commercial truck crashes make up just 8.7 per cent of collisions, they account for 21 per cent of crash fatalities in Canada.

Meanwhile, in B.C., speeds are actually on the increase, on certain highways like the Coquihalla, making them the fastest roadways in Canada.

In 2014, limits were increased to 120 kilometres per hour on 1,300 kilometres of provincial highway, only to revert back on some stretches after crashes spiked.

Also, variable speed limits — which change with road conditions — are being tested in six zones in B.C.

Variable Speed Limit signs on I-80 in Parley's Canyon in Utah allow traffic engineers to adjust the speed limit based on road conditions in the area. (Utah Department of Transportation)

But some advocates want Canada to adopt slower truck speed limits, as is done in one-third of U.S. states, as well as the U.K. and Europe.

So far there's been no serious discussion about this option in B.C.

Another option involves outfitting trucks with speed-limiting devices, a built-in microchip that lets the driver preset the top speed the truck can travel.

In 2016, the U.S. Department of Transportation proposed making speed-limiting devices mandatory.

In Canada, two provinces, Ontario and Quebec, made speed-limiting devices mandatory in 2008 to ensure that commercial vehicle travel stayed below 105 kilometres per hour, but B.C. has ignored a push by trucking advocates to do this here.

The Ministry of Transportation would not comment on the issue, saying the government remains in transition.

Samantha and Veronica Howard from Palo Alto, California. (

In B.C., heavy vehicles (10,900 kilograms) were involved in 13,000 crashes that killed 61 people on average each year between 2011 and 2015, according to Insurance Corporation of B.C. data.

More than statistics

In the 2011 Kootenay Park crash, Bagri was driving the rain-slicked curves on a steep part of Highway 93 at the posted 80-kilometre-per-hour speed limit, but hit the turn faster than advisories suggested.

When he backed off the accelerator, the engine brake kicked in sending his heavy trailers toward oncoming traffic on the other side of the road, killing Howard's brother and family.

Howard said a slower speed limit for commercial trucks might have averted disaster. Many U.S. highway regulations require rigs to drive slower, especially on steep grades.

Washington State sets a maximum speed limit for large trucks (over 4,535 kilograms) at 60 miles per hour (96 kilometres per hour), 10 miles-per-hour slower than passenger vehicles there.

Truck crashes

Howard is not the only person shocked by the speed of B.C. trucks.

Back in March, Jonah Jones' quick thinking saved him from a crash as he drove from Salmon Arm B.C. when a semi crossed the centre line into his lane.

Jonah Jones and his family had a scary moment outside Salmon Arm when a truck almost hit their vehicle. 0:22

The harrowing high-speed moment was captured on his dash camera.

The former British truck-fleet operator was surprised heavy trucks do not driver slower and equip their rigs with digital speed monitors.

"When you are carrying a full load and you throw the anchors on, you just don't stop like a Porsche."

Slow everyone to save lives

But experts say lowering speed limits for just trucks isn't enough. 

"It doesn't seem to make any difference," said Louise Yako, president of the BC Trucking Association.

Yako wants to see speed limits reduced for both cars and trucks.

In July 2014, British Columbia increased speed limits on 1,300 kilometres of highway to as high as 120 kilometres per hour, making speed limits in B.C. the fastest in Canada. (CBC)

Meanwhile, Howard, whose brother and family were killed in the 2011 B.C. accident, still sees the potential for tragedy.

After the accident, he retraced his brother's route in his own car and witnessed truckers "whipping along at high speeds."

The driver involved in the Kootenay crash was convicted of dangerous driving causing death and sentenced to a three-year prison term. But Howard said he's not convinced enough is being done by governments or truckers to put the brakes on a deadly trend.

"There’s an entire family that just doesn’t exist anymore," says John Howard. He lost his brother, Robert, 49, (left) and sister-in-law, Ana-Maria Dias, 50, (right) both engineers and parents of two young girls. (

About the Author

Yvette Brend

Yvette Brend is a CBC Vancouver journalist. @ybrend