Increased truck traffic at Massey Tunnel poses serious safety issue for passenger vehicles

Editor:

Re: Trucking can’t support an eight-lane tunnel, Dec. 24

article continues below

It was interesting to read comments from Dave Earle, president and CEO of the BC Trucking Association, with regard to the congestion at the George Massey Tunnel. Earle and his members want a bridge. OK, let’s build a bridge, why not?

Whether we get a tunnel or a bridge is not really relevant. Tunnels are safe, bridges are safe; it all depends on the circumstances. There are good arguments either way. However, to imply that there are more accidents at the tunnel is not accurate.

According to the latest ICBC stats, from 2013 to 2017, the number of accidents involving heavy trucks on the Knight Street Bridge was 2,475, Alex Fraser Bridge 1,310, Pattullo Bridge 805, Port Mann 604, Lions Gate 542 and Massey Tunnel 534. You could say that tunnels are safer, although we only have one, so it’s hard to say exactly, but this is not really relevant either. 

What is relevant is the fact that heavy truck traffic exists. It is significant and it is going to continue to increase in the Lower Mainland and at the Massey Tunnel in particular. We as co-occupiers of the road must accept there is little we can do about the volume of traffic (at least for the next five years or more).

It’s the trucks that keep the economy rolling and with the amount of money involved and the taxes that are generated, well, surely we must realize that the congestion is going to get a lot worse before it starts to improve, if ever.   

The latest ICBC’s stats reveal the number of accidents involving heavy trucks and passenger vehicles in the Lower Mainland increased from 8,400 to 11,000 (increase of 32 per cent) from 2014 to the end of 2016. Statistics and common sense agree, heavy trucks and passenger vehicles do not mix well in tight quarters (bridges and tunnels).

Here’s a surprise (or maybe not), according to a study from the University of Michigan: 80 per cent of accidents involving passenger vehicles and heavy trucks are caused by the driver of the passenger vehicle.   

As well, the United States’ Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration states that from 2016 to 2017, the number of large trucks involved in fatal crashes increased 10 per cent. The number of injury crashes increased five per cent, and you can bet the majority of the deaths and injuries were not sustained by the truck’s driver. It’s an unfair contest.

Truck traffic and accidents involving trucks will increase. This presents a serious safety issue and we, the passenger vehicle users, are the ones most at risk.   

How do we protect ourselves and loved ones from becoming a statistic? We must pay attention and drive defensively when we are manoeuvering around or near heavy trucks. Avoid driving in areas behind and beside heavy trucks where the driver has limited or zero visibility.

Do not change lanes abruptly in front of a heavy truck. Speeding up or slowing down when a truck begins to change lanes or merge is not a safe move and puts other drivers at risk. Use common sense and try to be courteous.   

I know we are all in a hurry to get through the tunnel and those big trucks can certainly slow things down for us. But if we take it easy and drive safely, I would bet that it would only add a minute or two to our tunnel transit.

The real issue is increased volume and the government’s inability to deal with the issue effectively. Waiting another five years or more to replace the tunnel or build a bridge is not what we should expect from our politicians and we should all remember that when election time rolls around.

In the meantime, take a deep breath, drive defensively and pay attention.

Iain McLellan

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