A New Marshal on the Road
By Jim Stirling
The pick-up truck was moving right along as he passed the road safety marshal’s parked truck. The driver hadn’t bothered to use the radio to let anyone know where he was that morning on the Pelican Forest Service Road. But as he zipped past, he must have noticed the large identifying sign on the front of the safety marshal’s truck or maybe it was the hand-held radar gun pointing in his direction. Either way, a kilometre later, the driver was dutifully calling out his location to the mutual safety of everyone traveling the road.
And that’s the point. The road safety marshal’s job is, in part, to be a visible reminder about bad driving habits like driving too fast and failure to follow correct calling procedures. The road marshal’s presence that day on the Pelicanand he could as easily been on any other high volume log haul road in the Prince George region of central British Columbia is an educational reinforcement that traveling logging roads safely is everyone’s responsibility.
The road safety marshal program is managed by the Prince George Woodlands Division of Canadian Forest Products Ltd (Canfor). The initiative is part of Canfor’s response to the rising numbers of accidents occurring on logging roads and throughout the forest industry generally, says Neil Spendiff, Prince George Woodlands safety co-ordinator. “We also wanted to improve our communication systems with truckers and have a more direct avenue of communication with our loggers,” explains Spendiff.
The road safety marshal is part of a system designed to hold logging truck drivers and other industrial users more accountable. Spendiff says the forest industry is buying into road safety, with many logging trucks now showing a prominent vehicle identification number (VIN). But there are still plenty of vehicles, especially pick-up truckslike the errant driver on the Pelican that morningwho display no VIN.
A hotline has been establisheda third party independent message centre which any road user can call to register complaints, report near-misses or make comments about road maintenance and associated issues, says Spendiff. All calls to the hotline (250 561-8467) receive follow- up action, he adds.
Spendiff and the road marshal attend safety meetings with log harvesters and truckers, road user group meetings and check in with truckers at mill weigh scales to gather feedback and perspective from the log haulers and other road users. Spendiff says Canfor also communicates regularly with other agencies like the Ministry of Forests and Range and BC Timber Sales on road safety issues.
“The Safety Accord Forestry Enterprise (SAFE) company certification program has helped and that’s trickling down to truck drivers,” he observes. Canfor has certified 11 quota log contracting companies regionally, six tree planting contractors and is in the process of certifying its other forestry consultants.
Spendiff emphasizes enforcement is not the primary objective of the road safety marshal program and its support systems. “Firstly, it’s about education; secondly, it’s an avenue of communication; thirdly, it’s about monitoring what’s going on out there; and fourth, about enforcement. We’re out there to get drivers to want to be safer and improve our relationship out there.”
The road safety marshal is concentrating on the small percentage of drivers whose driving habits pose moderate risks, high risks and excessive risks and try to hold them accountable by reporting them to whoever they’re representing. The program is relatively new so establishing definitive trends is premature.
A general program goal is to encourage drivers on logging roads to decrease their “usual” operating speeds by 10 kilometres per hour.
“Loaded logging truck drivers aren’t doing 100 kilometres per hour. I think truck drivers are doing a good job out there, better than in the past,” says Spendiff. “I think we have pretty consistent calling procedures here on all our logging roads. I believe we’re getting drivers to be diligent in calling their loaded kilometres.” While Canfor manages the road safety marshal program, other licensees’ traffic is billed to road maintenance based on volumes hauled on the particular road the marshal was monitoring that day.
Ewen Freethy is Canfor’s road marshal and the second to hold the title. He’s into his second year on the job and has settled in well. Freethy is an ex- RCMP officer with a 35-year career spent entirely in detachments around BC, including Prince George from 1992. Much of his time was spent in traffic duties, including the RCMP’s accident investigation program and accident re-construction. “I’m interested in the causes of accidents,” he says. “And I like the bush.”
Freethy knows logging roads are getting busier, enhancing accident potential. Salvaging the mountain pine beetle wood is just part of the equation. The bush roads are being increasingly used by the mining and oil and gas industries, as well as recreational traffic.
Out on the Pelican on a recent morning with Freethy on a monitoring patrol, the road was well plowed and banked, visibility was excellent and traffic relatively light. The monitoring process can only provide a snapshot of what’s happening at that time and place, says Freethy. Word was out quickly that the road marshal was working the Pelican, which is to everyone’s safety advantage. “The boys are pretty good today about calling empty,” remarks Freethy.
It’s something he wants radioequipped road users to get in the habit of doing, and not just at “Must Call” locations along the road that are posted clearly. And while more regular logging road users are sporting VIN plates, there’s room for improvement.
“It would be really helpful if the smaller companies especially could see the value of the VIN plates and see the advantage of the service we provide. We provide the information to them (about suspect driving habits) and it’s up to them to act on it,” notes Freethy. “Everyone has a vested interest in making the roads safer.”
The road marshal appreciates regional mills encouraging log haulers to maintain a trucking cycle so there’s less incentive for drivers to push the pedal and jump the queue.
Freethy recognizes making logging roads safer is a process. “It takes time to change a mind-set. But we’re getting to be an accepted part of safety on our logging roads,” he says. And that’s a big step forward in that process.