(This column was published in the North Shore News on May 28, 2003)
Amazingly few dump trucks crash
By Leo Knight
JUST over a month since a loaded dump truck went careening down the 21st Street hill in West Vancouver, causing over half a million dollars damage, information has come to light that the West Vancouver Police Department believe it was the driver's failure to adjust his brakes and not a mechanical defect which caused the crash.
While that may well prove to be the case if and when the police finally have their case presented in a courtroom, it seems there are a number of other contributing factors in the case.
According to the police documents filed to obtain a search warrant, the truck was also hideously overloaded. And not by little, by what could be explained as an oversight.
It was overloaded by a stunning 14,520 kilograms. Or, for you metrically-challenged folks, that's 31,944 pounds over the limit allowed. That's more than 15 tons in excess of what should have been in a full truck.
To put it in perspective, that is approximately 1 1/2 times the unladen weight of the truck itself.
A truck driver I spoke to said it was not fathomable that a professional driver would allow that to happen.
Then there's the fact that large trucks are not allowed down that particular hill, only up because of its steep grade.
Add to that five of the overloaded behemoth's 10 brakes were out of adjustment and, according to the court documents, an auxiliary coupling device was not attached and even if it were, the device on that truck was "substandard."
I should add, in this case that it seems it wasn't the intention of the driver to head down the hill.
Bad brakes and gravity made that decision.
This was a disaster looking for a place to happen.
It is truly something just short of miraculous that no one was killed in the path of the out of control, overloaded truck that damaged 10 vehicles before it came to a halt on Bellevue Avenue.
This is not the first such accident to occur on the North Shore.
Remember the Horseshoe Bay tragedy a decade or so ago. Or the strikingly similar event a couple of years back coming down the Cut in North Vancouver.
But what is truly amazing is this doesn't happen more often. Three weeks after the events of April 2 on 21st Street, at a roadside inspection carried out to enforce the National Safety Code (NSC) beside the Main Street off-ramp from the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Crossing, 17 vehicles were checked by inspectors.
Five were ordered off the road and of the remaining 12, nine had defects, which were ordered repaired, and only three were given a clean bill of health. Only three of 17.
This is incredible.
Especially when one considers the fact that truckers use their radios and cellphones to warn other trucks of a mobile inspection set up. Dodgy vehicles simply avoid the area, choosing alternate routes so they can avoid the inspection officers.
In fact, any dump truck working on the North Shore, taking material from a construction site to any of the various landfills used to dump their loads, doesn't have to pass a single scale.
Their only chance of running into enforcement action is if they are unlucky enough to hit a mobile inspection flying squad doing Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) standards inspections.
Drivers are responsible for checking their vehicles every day before setting out.
Their log sheets are subject to inspection and must reflect these checks. Equally, the onus is on the driver to refuse to drive an unsafe vehicle.
While this may work fine in reputable trucking firms, it is wide open for abuse by the smaller Ma and Pa outfits who won't pay a driver who refuses to go out for safety reasons.
Equally, a driver who refuses to go along with the wishes of company owners may risk losing their jobs if they become too vociferous.
Putting 100 per cent of the onus on drivers, when it is the trucking company that is financially responsible for the maintenance of the vehicles, is plain wrong.
Consider too, that all trucks must be inspected either annually or semi-annually depending on their gross vehicle weight.
These inspections must be done at government approved facilities. But the potential for abuse comes when some firms' own mechanical shop becomes a Designated Inspection Facility (DIF).
The incentive to cut corners in an extremely competitive industry becomes incredibly tempting for small businesses trying to stay afloat.
How competitive? About 12 years ago I'm told, the charge-out rate for a dump truck was a little more than $57 per hour.
Now, the price has climbed marginally to slightly over $58.
Given the price increase in fuel alone, never mind insurance rates and vehicle maintenance, this means that many operators must cut corners to stay competitive.
Larger companies who run on the North Shore charge a premium to re-brake their vehicles every few months.
Companies trying to take that business may not understand the need to do that.
The company which owned the truck that careened down the 21st Street hill is called Beesla Trucking Ltd.
This is not a big company.
Was this company a DIF?
I was unable to find out.
While the responsibility of the driver to properly adjust his brakes is clear, one wonders if there were other contributing factors in this case.
There are far too many hills on North Shore roads to do any less than find out for sure.