Wheel separations have made their way back into prominence in media coverage lately, bringing back not so found memories of the wheel separation epidemic in Ontario in the mid to late nineties that resulted in numerous crashes, leading to injuries, and in far too many cases, death. In those days it seemed a wheel separation was reported in the media almost daily. The recent media coverage has been, in part, as a result of a tragic incident near London, Ontario that occurred on Nov 6th where a separated wheel went over the median, slammed into the driver’s side of a car and killed a driver heading in the other direction. 6 days after this, in close to the same location, a wheel also separated and went over the median, and struck a van carrying 2 adults and 4 children. The van was destroyed, but luckily everyone survived. Both of these incidents were covered by the London Free Press.
In 1997, 215 wheel off incidents were reported to the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario (MTO). To help combat this problem, laws were changed drastically, with increased fines and an absolute liability law put in place, meaning no defence could be offered if a wheel separation charge was laid. The change in laws, in part, played a role in reducing wheel off separations and by 2010, reported wheel separations were reduced to 47. Since 2010, these numbers have increased steadily, to 56 in 2011, 97 in 2012, 147 in 2013, 148 in 2014, and 82 up to the end of October of 2015. These recent tragedies, and an increase in reported wheel separations, have led the Ontario Transportation Minister Steven DelDuca to ask his Ministry to report back to him on suggestions to improve safety.
Have wheel separations really increased? When we look at the numbers, there is no denying the number of reported wheel separations have increased, but do we really think the trucking industry has gone back to the
days of the mid nineties when it comes to proper wheel installation, maintenance and Inspection? Strides have been made in technology, and our knowledge as a whole as to proper installation, maintenance and inspections has increased dramatically since the nineties. I also believe the majority of the companies in the industry do a much better job of oversight and ensuring proper procedures and inspections are carried out. With this being said, you may be asking, what gives then with the increase in numbers? One thing that may explain some of the increase in reports, is the way in which the wheel separations themselves are reported. In 2012, the MTO went to an electronic reporting procedure, transitioning from the previous paper reporting format. This made the reporting process much simpler for the OPP, who report the majority of the wheel offs to the Ministry. It is likely more than coincidence that the reported numbers increased with the new reporting system. I believe the improvement in ease of reporting is a good thing, as in order to remedy our problems, we need to ensure we have as much accurate data as possible. Whether we believe wheel separations have increased or not however, in reality, does not change the fact that any wheel separation is a bad thing, and any serious injury or death as a result, is a terrible tragedy, and one we as an industry must ensure we do everything we can to prevent. We must always be looking for ways to improve.
We all need to do our part, especially with the winter months coming. Statistics have shown that the number of wheel separations increases during the months of January and February. There are likely a number of reasons for this, ranging from materials becoming more brittle in cold weather, to roads becoming rougher with increased potholes, cracks, snow build up etc, which increases the strain put on the wheels, to possible shortcuts being taken on trip inspections by some operators during bad weather. In order to ensure you, your company, and the traveling public are all protected, and as safe as possible. Here a few simple steps to reduce the chances that you are involved in a wheel off.
*Ensure you stress to your drivers that a thorough trip inspection needs to be completed daily, and perhaps even more so during the winter, as the harsh conditions increase the chance of defects. Ensure drivers are fully trained on proper inspection procedures, and know what they should be looking for and reporting.
*Ensure you have a preventative maintenance program that has your equipment going through a shop to be checked over by licensed technicians on a regular basis. No matter how good of an inspection your drivers do, there are just some things they can’t see.
*Ensure you have a procedure in place to ensure your shops, whether internal or 3rd party, communicate to your drivers and operations personal when a wheel has been removed, and therefor must have the lug nuts re torqued. (best practice is to ensure lug nuts are re torqued within 100km’s) Ensure you have a follow up system in place to make sure the re torque was done as required. The procedure must be communicated to all parties involved to ensure compliance.
*Ensure your technicians are fully trained and kept current on proper wheel installation procedures, and certified to do wheel installations. If you work with 3rd party facilities, make sure their technicians are certified to work on wheel installations. Never assume.
This is just a short sample of a few simple things you can do, and is by no means exhaustive. As always, check with local and federal regulations to ensure all procedures are being followed, and check against industry best practices to ensure you are doing all you can to prevent wheel separations. Feel free to call or email the PMTC office for more information.
And one final point, part of the solution to any situation, also needs to be our enforcement partners. No matter how many rules are in place, while the majority of operators will follow them, and operate safely, some operators will also try to fly under the radar and ignore rules and regulations, which not only stains the reputation of our industry, but makes roads unsafe for all operators. The MTO needs to ensure they check as many vehicles as possible, year round. In a lot of cases, our weigh scales are open for a fraction of the time they used to be. The chance of being inspected should be 24 hours, 7 days a week, especially on our major highways. Trucking is a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week business, and as a result, our inspection stations should reflect this reality.
About the Author
“Mike has 25 years’ of wide ranging experience in the trucking industry, performing such duties as a livestock and grain hauler for 3 years, followed by 5 years of long haul across North America hauling refrigerated and general freight. Mike was also a full time certified driver trainer for 2 years, and then transitioned into Safety and Compliance for 2 years, and then spent over 12 years as a Fleet manager for a Private Fleet. Mike is now the President of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada, Canada’s only National Association that represents the views and interest of today’s Private Fleets.” Mike can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org