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Amber Alert

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Is the next truck tragedy waiting around the corner?

In one recent inspection, 41 per cent of unsafe heavy-goods vehicles were taken off the road Shelley Zenzen was a careful driver.

The 53-year-old Prince George woman was on her way home after visiting her mother, who was recovering from open-heart surgery in Vancouver.

She was driving an SUV with brand new tires. She was familiar with the route, having made the 10-hour drive from the Lower Mainland to Prince George countless times, even in the worst winter conditions.This trip, however, was to be her last.

On Dec. 18 at about 1 p.m., Zenzen was travelling north on Highway 1, about 10 kilometres past Boston Bar, when a semi-trailer heading south lost its load of railway ties on top of her jeep. She died instantly.

Police said it was snowing at the time of the crash and weather and speed were possible factors.

Zenzen's family, still waiting for official word as to what caused the accident, is devastated.

"It doesn't matter what you do," says Daniel Zenzen, Shelley's brother-in-law. "Someone else can take you out." Truck safety was not an issue he had thought much about.

But driving through the Fraser Canyon from Shelley's memorial service in Prince George last week was a harrowing experience for the Abbotsford man.

"There's a ratio of 100 trucks to one car," he says. "You're just pushed and crushed off the road with all the trucks going up into the Interior. It's scary." The death of Shelley Zenzen is just one of a string of tragedies on B.C.'s roads in recent years that have caused increasing alarm about the safety of trucks in B.C.

Among 28,700 injuries and 460 fatalities from vehicle crashes in 2005, heavy-commercial-vehicle crashes (including those involving buses) injured more than 1,550 people and killed 82, according to the Insurance Corporation of B.C.

Trucks don't account for the biggest segment of road traffic, but they do cause a disproportionate amount of harm.

A Transport Canada study in 2004 showed that truck crashes are responsible for a much higher rate of death and injury than accidents caused by passenger vehicles: eight fatalities per 10,000 vehicles compared with 1.5 per 10,000 for all vehicles combined.

The death toll from big-rig crashes makes up 18 per cent of all fatal collisions in the province.

Random safety checks of B.C.'s trucking industry offer startling evidence as to why those figures are so out of proportion.

Sgt. Ray Boldt of the Delta police has two words to sum up the state of trucks he's seen in the municipality's annual enforcement blitz.

"They suck," he says.

For two years in a row, Delta's targeted truck-safety inspections have yielded alarming failure rates.

In 2006, 27 per cent of 544 inspected vehicles received a Failure Out of Service rating -- meaning the truck cannot be allowed to turn another wheel until the problem is fixed roadside or the truck is towed.

An enforcement blitz last April revealed that the state of trucks has deteriorated even further, with 250 out of 613 trucks -- 41 per cent -- deemed unsafe.

"Something needs to be done with truck safety," says Boldt.

"There's lots of problems with brakes. We had one truck pull in where the brake line was on fire." Logbook violations were also common, with drivers failing to keep proper records. In many cases, inspectors believed the books had been fudged.Source