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By: Jim Bertwistle

One of the benefits of driving across this great big country of ours is the opportunity to traverse a diverse landscape and view all it has to offer. Wilderness areas are certainly part of this diversity. Most Canadians live in cities and in Canada cities are few and far between, and for the most part are connected by roads. As a result trucks transport the majority of goods used in daily life. The old saying of “ if you got it a truck brought it” is certainty true in Canada.

In many cases the roads we use today started out as rudimentary trails, and little thought was given to the environmental consequences of trail location. Some of these former trails are now major transportation corridors. An example is the Yellowhead Highway through Jasper National Park in Alberta. The Jasper National Park portion of the Yellowhead Highway cuts through a diverse and ever shrinking type of wildlife habitat called Montane. Wildlife is attracted to the Montane for a variety of reasons and here is where conflicts occur.

Each year in Jasper National Park around 120 large animals ranging from wolves to white-tailed deer killed are in collisions with vehicles, on the 77km stretch of Yellowhead Highway. The most common species killed in Jasper are elk followed by deer. Across North America, white-tailed deer are by far the most common species killed in collisions with vehicles. Research figures from 1995 show 1.5 million white-tailed deer where killed in collisions with vehicles in the USA causing 29,000 injuries and 200 human deaths. Some species appear to be more susceptible to collisions than others; wolves are a prime example, especially wolf pups. Collisions with less common species like grizzly bears and mountain caribou are also cause for concern based simply on the low number of these species – killing one makes a bigger dent in the population if there aren’t many to start with.

In Jasper National Park, from 1980 to 1999, 2214 animals were killed in collisions with vehicles. During this period the number of collisions in each vehicle category was- 552 passenger vehicles, 329 transport trucks and 1130 unknown vehicle types. Transport trucks and passenger vehicles combined, accounted for 99% of known vehicle types involved in a collision. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that unknown vehicle types are either transport trucks or passenger vehicles. If the 1130 unknown vehicle types are split evenly between passenger vehicles and transport trucks, transport trucks accounted for 45% and passenger vehicles for 54% of collisions. Transport trucks make up about 12% of the traffic volume on the Yellowhead. Therefore, collisions rates for transport trucks are much higher proportionally than for passenger vehicles.

Speed data shows average speeds for transport trucks and passenger vehicles are similar. So why are transport truck collision rates proportionally higher than passenger vehicles? Transport trucks are a lot bigger and heavier than cars and the stopping distance for a truck is greater.Based on identical road conditions the stopping distance of a transport truck travelling at 100 km/hr. is 86 m compared to a stopping distance of 56 m for a passenger vehicle travelling at the same speed.

So how can truckers reduce these higher collision rates? Here are a few suggestions.Your chances of a collision with wildlife are greater in the fall and early winter and during dawn and dusk and at night. In mountainous areas most wildlife migrate to lower elevations during the winter and they are more active at night. Another crucial period is during spring green up. Grass and other wildlife foods get an earlier start in ditches than adjacent areas and wildlife are attracted to ditches to feed on the new growth. These factors increase the number of wildlife near roads increasing the likehood of a collision.

In Jasper mobile electronic signs are being used to advise drivers of higher collision areas. Slowing down in these areas will reduce collisions, slowing down reduces your stopping distance and ability to avoid a collision. Additionally, three reduced speed zones from 90km/hr. to 70km/hr. have been installed over 15 kilometres of highway in high collision areas. This may seem like a lot when your following a vehicle putting along at 70 km/hr on a major highway, but reducing your speed by 20 km/hr only increases the time it takes to drive through these areas by 3 minutes.

Transport trucks are a vital part of our economy and contribute to our high standard of living. Part of this high standard of living is the wilderness areas we are blessed with. The wildlife in these areas is certainly a visual remainder of how fortunate we are. The Canadian landscape has been shaped by a variety of things; wilderness areas and large trucks are both part of our Canadian heritage.Keeping both safe and functioning long into the future is a goal all Canadians should be involved in.