B.C. asks feds to reduce safety gaps following overpass crashes

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British Columbia has asked the federal government to reduce the gaps in the current system that currently allow extra-provincial carriers to lawfully avoid enforcement consequences when operating commercial vehicles unsafely across Canada.

Rob Fleming, B.C.’s transportation and infrastructure minister’s letter to Pablo Rodriguez, Canada’s minister of transport, comes after a series of incidents in which commercial vehicles have struck overpasses in the province.

Picture of a damaged overpass in Delta, B.C.
A vehicle struck and damaged an overpass on Highway 99 in Delta, B.C., in July 2023. (Photo: Delta Police Department)

B.C. suspended the National Safety Code certificate of Chohan Freight Forwarders, grounding its fleet of 65 commercial vehicles in the province after one of its trucks crashed into an overpass on Highway 99 last month. The company is part of a group that also has a fleet in Alberta and those vehicles continue to haul freight in B.C.

The carrier faces the highest fines allowed in the country, a Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure official told TruckNews.com. “The company is prevented from transferring any of its vehicles in B.C. or operating them under another company name in this province.”

Carrier involved in six incidents

According to provincial records, the crash was the 31st overpass strike by a commercial vehicle in B.C. since December 2021, and the 17th in 2023. Chohan Freight Forwarders has been involved in six of these in the past two years.

The current, decentralized system across the country whereby provinces and territories can only monitor and assess operators licensed in their own jurisdiction does not recognize the interprovincial nature of commercial trucking, Fleming said in his letter to Rodriquez.

He added that a few carriers who do not operate safely and responsibly cause “costly collisions with infrastructure: they delay commuters, affect the movement of goods and can impede first responders.”

The crashes are due to complacency, competing priorities, pressure, and ultimately poor decision making, Dave Earle, president and CEO of B.C. Trucking Association told TruckNews.com.

Annual and trip permits

Carriers require permits to haul overheight loads. In B.C., they can obtain an annual term permit that allows freight of certain widths, lengths and heights. For loads that exceed those measurements, a trip permit is needed, and must be obtained over the phone.

Sources alleged that impatient drivers sometimes head out on the road without waiting for a permit.

Of the 17 incidents in 2023, six drivers did not have permits, two failed to observe conditions of the permit, one failed to follow the approved route, and another failed to measure the load.

Sometimes, the wait times are long, and a call back can take hours, said Larry Hall, owner of Extreme Transportation, based in Kamloops. While not condoning the crashes, he said a driver may be waiting for a permit while the ELD (electronic logging device) counts down. “You have a 16-hour hourglass and once you flip it upside down, the sand doesn’t stop running until it runs empty,” he said.

Cumbersome, antiquated process

BCTA’s Earle said the permit process is cumbersome, antiquated and takes far too long. The government has improvements in the pipeline, and he added that customer expectations are also out of line with reality. “A customer did not wake up this morning with a need to move specialized components today. Yes, emergencies happen, but most of the time, these moves can be planned,” he said.

In December 2023, the Provincial Permit Centre received more than 6,400 calls and issued more than 10,200 permits, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure official said. The average wait time was six minutes, and the longest wait time was 88 minutes.

It’s the responsibility of commercial vehicle drivers to ensure their load is properly measured, that they’ve received their permit, and that they travel on an approved route, the official added.

Man measuring the height of an oversized load on a trailer.
Dave Willison measures the height of a load using a measuring stick. (Photo: Scott-Woods Transport)

“There is no reason anybody should be hitting an overpass, unless they are off route,” said Dave Willison, manager of field operations, Scott-Woods Transport. The carrier based in Maple, Ont., specializes in hauling oversized, overheight and overweight loads.

Each Scott-Woods driver carries a measuring stick which is a telescoping pole to measure load heights. “Compliance is everything, each driver is responsible for the load. If they have a permit for 16 feet, and if they are above that number, they have to start all over again,” Willison said.

Measure the height – twice

When they arrive at the pick-up location, his drivers first measure the height of the freight on the ground. They measure it again once it is loaded on their trailer. “Customers sometimes do not understand what we do and how trucking works. If you are not in compliance with your permit, you are looking for trouble,” Willison added.

Minister Fleming said the government has taken unprecedented action to deal with problem carriers who are unable or unwilling to operate safely and professionally within B.C. This includes raising fines to the highest level in the country and taking action to ground an offending company’s entire fleet while an investigation takes place.

“While B.C.’s new fines for infrastructure crashes have become the highest in Canada, the province is also reviewing potential legislative changes that would allow even higher fines in the future,” he said. 

Meanwhile, permanent repairs to the damaged Highway 17A crossing over Highway 99 which was struck by an overheight vehicle on July 18, 2023 began on Jan. 8. The repairs to the crossing will be extensive, involving demolition and girder installation. It is expected that repairs will take until early March to complete, depending on the weather, according to a news release.

Commercial Vehicle Safety and Enforcement continues to investigate last month’s crash. The outcome of the investigation could lead to further action against the company, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure official said.

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Leo Barros is the associate editor of Today’s Trucking. He has been a journalist for more than two decades, holds a CDL and has worked as a longhaul truck driver. Reach him at [email protected]

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  • Some drivers just don’t care or have not been properly trained in Canada about low bridges and truck routes. I’ve seen drivers using GPS services meant for cars. They don’t consider bridge height necessary for cars. The next thing they know they’re stuck under a bridge.

  • Point blank, it’s way to easy for someone with a hope and dream to throw trucks on the road in North America and haul anything.

    Safety and compliance comes from values, fundamentals, experience, actions, relentless thought and process to enforce compliance. Do that and public safety and infrastructure stands a chance. It’s not achieved by hopes and dreams…

    Blaming anyone other than the people at the top is pointless. It’s our responsibility to know the risks and if you don’t know it you don’t proceed.