'Here to stay:' After deadly 400 crash, truck association says autonomous trucks will never replace drivers

Two days after a deadly collision on a stretch of Highway 400 killed three, the president of the Ontario Trucking Association was on Metro Morning to discuss his industry’s safety record and new technology being introduced to cut down on accidents.

Ontario Truck Association president says drivers already being monitored for hard braking

Witnesses described seeing multiple explosions after a collision on Highway 400 on Tuesday, while a police officer described what had happened as 'absolute devastation.' (Kerry Schmidt/Twitter)

Two days after a deadly collision on a stretch of Highway 400 killed three people, the president of the Ontario Trucking Association spoke to Metro Morning and discussed the industry's safety record and new technology being introduced to cut down on accidents.

He also took a crack at the biggest technological shift on the horizon — the arrival of autonomous vehicles.

This interview has been lightly condensed and edited. 

Matt Galloway: What do you make of the statistics that 65 per cent of collisions [investigated by the Ontario Provincial Police] are the fault of the driver?

Stephen Laskowski: Let's take a look at the historical numbers. When you look at fatal collisions involving commercial motor vehicles, when you look at fault, 75 per cent of the time historically, when there is a fatal collision involving a transport truck, the commercial motor vehicle has been driving correctly.   

MG: But as we heard from [Ontario Provincial Police Sergeant] Kerry Schmidt, those numbers are skewed because of what's happening this year. What's happening now?

SL: In terms of what's happening now, I think you need to take a step back and let investigations happen. In terms of our industry, and the overall record when you look at the ministry numbers, there really isn't an anomaly. I think what the best thing to do is focus on Kerry's comments about what we need to do, and we agree 100 per cent what we need to do. And the issue is human error, inattentive driving, aggressive driving.

MG: How big of an issue is distracted driving within the trucking industry?

SL: I think it's a big issue. Not just in the trucking industry, it's a big issue in society.

MG: But I'm talking to you as the head of the trucking association.

SL: But I think you need to look at it collectively. We all share the road together. Obviously the trucking industry has more of a responsibility. We operate heavy pieces of equipment. The road is our workplace. We accept that responsibility. But we also share the road with everyone. In 2016, we realized distracted driving is a problem, again in our sector and others, but we look in the mirror first. We always have.  

So what did we do? We hired the Traffic Injury Research Foundation out of Ottawa to come into our sector and take a look at best practices, what we can do as an industry to get better with distracted driving, distracted driving policies. And many companies are implementing these policies. That paper will come out in November.

MG: What does that mean, best practices? Distracted driving for people who are driving a car means you don't look at your phone.

SL: If you hand the keys over to your teenage son or daughter, you don't know what they're doing out on the road. The trucking industry does. That's why we as an industry take responsibility. Trucks are moving computers. All the hard braking and braking systems are monitored either through the engine system or through satellite systems. 

All the hard braking and braking systems are monitored either through the engine system or through satellite systems. - Stephen Laskowski

At the end of the week or end of the month, they're reviewed by their companies. They take a look at their braking, and say look, if we have a problem here, if we have too many hard braking incidents, what that's telling us is that you're either inattentive or aggressive. So progressive management techniques are put in there, which will eventually lead to the driver being dismissed if they don't change their behaviour, or monitoring technologies introduced into the truck that will allow the company to watch their body, their eyes, or their physical features to know exactly what's happening inside that cab.

The other aspect of  technology that's coming, you're already seeing it in passenger vehicles, and it's coming to heavy-duty vehicles, is lane departure systems, advanced warning systems, advanced braking systems. They are slowly making their way into our industry as technology comes to the forefront, but what we're seeing is companies that are trying this technology and implementing this technology have reduced rear-end collisions by 70 per cent.

MG: What we're also seeing when it comes to technology is autonomous vehicles, and the belief is that the vehicles will be safer if they are driven by computers, just take the drivers out of the cab.

SL: Matt, I will tell you this. Autonomous vehicles are a wonderful research facility, they will not replace truck drivers. Truck drivers are here to stay. What autonomous vehicle technology is going to do is become driver-assist technology, that are going to make our drivers safer and allow the Ontario Provincial Police and the Ontario Trucking Association and the Ministry of Transportation to make roads safer.

This month, the Ontario Trucking Association had called for a working group prior to all of these incidents, with the Ontario Provincial Police and the Ministry of Transportation to deal with these very issues. We wake up every morning and look in the mirror and say how can we get better. We realize that human error and driver inattentiveness and aggressive driving, construction zone safety, a number of issues., is where we can get better. We just don't sit back. The association, the industry, takes safety very seriously. We don't wait for incidents like this to make us take steps forward.      

With files from Metro Morning