Bigger fines could be coming for B.C. truckers that hit highway overpasses

Police are considering charges under the Motor Vehicle Act against the driver of a commercial truck after its load slammed into an overpass on Highway 1 in Abbotsford.

The ongoing investigation comes at the same time the province says it’s looking at whether to bring in stronger deterrents for dangerous truck drivers.

The crash happened Monday afternoon at the Peardonville overpass and sent debris flying. Some of that debris hit a vehicle, but no one was injured.

“The load was not low enough to get under the clearance so there was an overpass strike,” said Dave Earle, president of the BC Trucking Association.

But it’s an incident that could have been avoided.

“When trailers are loaded, drivers are required to measure the height of the trailer and if it’s over 4.15 metres, that’s an oversize load and they’re required to contact various authorities – including provincial ones – to get a permit to move that oversize load,” he explained.

There are multiple signs warning drivers of the overpass height.

Though the accident was caught on camera, it’s not clear what company was involved.

Since 2021, there have been 16 ‘strikes’ along the province’s highways. Most have occurred on Highway 1 through the Lower Mainland. B.C. recently began publicly posting data about these crashes online.

According to the data, five of the crashes involved the carrier, Chohan Freight Forwarders Ltd.

“The company responsible for a spate of collisions last year was suspended pending an investigation. Their 50 vehicles and drivers were off the road for approximately three weeks while the investigation took place” the Ministry of Transportation wrote in an email to CTV News.

“The company was required to develop, and have approved, an action plan detailing the changes it would make to ensure no more incidents occurred. The company was allowed to restart its operations, and no incidents have occurred since,” the email said.

On Wednesday evening, Chohan Freight Forwarders sent a statement to CTV News saying it “proudly confirms compliance with all safety standards.”

The statement also said there was an unfortunate “cluster of 5 incidents out of 5,000 deliveries that occurred within a short period of time last year that lead to a Commercial Vehicle Safety Enforcement (CVSE) investigation. A safety plan was provided to CVSE.”

The company said it remains in compliance with a “satisfactory safety rating and continues to have an ongoing and positive working relationship with CVSE.”

The company also said it was not involved in the incident that occurred on Highway 1 in Abbotsford earlier this week.

“Chohan can dispel any concern that it was involved in a vehicle safety incident that occurred on May 1, 2023, in which a commercial truck loaded with equipment collided with the Peardonville overpass,” the statement reads.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure said fines are in place for drivers or companies that violate the conditions of a permit, or for operating without the appropriate over-height permit.

“Currently, each of those violations is subject to a $115 fine,” a spokesperson for the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure said. 

But Minister Rob Fleming said the fine amount is under review.

“We are looking at other enforcement mechanisms including enhanced fines and whether that would create a stronger disincentive to get the number of collisions that we’re seeing related to oversize loads on our highways,” he explained.

Fleming said that most professional drivers safely move goods each day, but “we are concerned that there’s a few companies and individuals that are not being mindful.’

Earle said that a vast majority of the time, the incidents are caused by people “making mistakes, so that tells us we need to do more to educate drivers, we need to do more to educate companies and we need to take really good consistent enforcement action to make sure everybody knows how serious this is.”

The province said the cost of repairs from trucks striking overpasses varies widely.

“Repairs to the 192nd Street crossing following a collision in July 2022 cost approximately $1 million. Where possible, the ministry works to recover the costs of repairs from the insurance providers of the operators/vehicles that caused damage,” the ministry wrote in an email.

There are about 100,000 heavy vehicles on B.C.’s highways on any given day.