Fraser Canyon (Trans-Canada Hwy)
Updated: May 31, 2021
Engineering improvements were implemented to combat fatal collisions on B.C.'s deadliest highway.
Treacherous from the start.
The town of Hope British Columbia is located at the junction of highways 1,3,5 and 7. This is the gateway to the rest of Canada and the north when leaving the Vancouver/Lower Mainland region of BC.
When explorer Simon Fraser made his historic trip through the Fraser Canyon and the harrowing section of Hells Gate, in his canoe, he later wrote: "This is a land that no human being should be." (1808)
The highway from Hope to Cache Creek is approximately 192 km's in length and one of the most scenic areas of Canada. This is also an engineering marvel with only two lanes in most sections and rock face on one side and cliffs to the river below on the other side.
This has been the scene of many tragic collisions since it was built and if you're paying attention you will travel collision free -- but as we know with many drivers, risk outweighs safety and common sense.
When collisions occur with heavy commercial transport trucks, the results are usually catastrophic.
The deadliest highway in BC.
In 2003 a reporter for the Vancouver Province newspaper wrote that this was the most dangerous highways in BC. This was also an important part of my region for road safety initiatives with the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia and the challenge was on.
There had been Traffic Safety Committees with representation from all communities and first nations bands as well, but this new publicity added a higher level of importance to the challenge.
A special task force was developed with industry representatives from RCMP Highway Patrol which covered the north and south sections of the corridor. Ministry of Transportation from both sections of the corridor, Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Branch, BC Trucking Association, Bobell Trucking, Worksafe BC and ICBC Road Safety and Road Improvement engineers.
Crash Data was reviewed and for an 8 year period there were 94 people killed and over 1100 injured in this corridor. Ministry of Transportation asked for a review of similar highways to see if this is the most hazardous and the best place to start.
Crash stats revealed the following:
Highway 1: Fraser Canyon (Hope to Cache Creek)
94 killed and 1100 injured (most deaths were from Hope to Boston Bar) and Heavy Commercial Vehicles were at fault in almost half of those fatal collisions.
Highway 3: Hope Princeton (Hope to Princeton is 126 km in length)
54 killed and over 1100 injured (most deaths were from Hope to Manning Park)
Heavy Commercial Vehicles were not a factor in this corridor.
Highway 5: Coquihalla Hwy (Hope to Merritt)
37 killed and 1577 injured (most deaths were from Britton Creek to Hope which is the steepest grade)
Heavy Commercial Vehicles were not a factor in this corridor.
If this was any other kind of homicide there would be a major task force set up, but for some reason when cars are involved, it gets little attention to stop the carnage.
Fraser Canyon was the candidate for review and a special focus was on Heavy Commercial Vehicles.
Speed + Inexperience = Disaster
(How fast is too fast? Sometimes a little speed can cost you your life. A semi truck makes a minor overcorrection and rolls.)
Further investigation revealed that the number one truck that was at fault the most frequent was finished lumber haulers travelling from the interior mills in BC to the coast --which means downhill in the canyon. Also, these trucks are usually the poorest maintained and had the least skilled drivers in the industry.
Speed was over represented as a causal factor, twice as much as the next causal factor.
Clear, dry days was the most common conditions crashes were occurring.
The "Three" E Solution
The "Three E" approach to attacking a high risk corridor was implemented to full effect.
ICBC Road Improvement engineers assisted with funding safety improvements that included for following:
Larger and highly reflective 4'x4' delineation from Hope to Cache Creek and on to Kamloops
Larger and highly reflective curve warning signs.
Centre line rumble strips where data indicated head on or side swipe collisions occurred.
Shoulder line rumble strips where data indicated off road right or off road left collisions occurred.
Canyon Watch program was implemented to have drivers record and report aggressive divers and pay phones along the corridor and for police to follow up.
Line painting became a priority.
3 out of 5 Roll Over Prone areas in BC were in the Fraser Canyon, better overhead signage complete with flashing lights to alert truck drivers.
Efforts were coordinated between both RCMP and CVSE:
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Highway Patrol from Ashcroft in the north and Hope in the south targeted Heavy Commercial Vehicle Lumber Haulers, at or near the high crash locations.
Commercial Vehicle Safety and Enforcement officers from the north and the south sections of the canyon also targeted Heavy Commercial Vehicle Lumber Haulers as well as safety inspections and log books.
Multiple initiatives were brought on to educate at-risk drivers:
Worksafe BC launched their new Truck Safe Program in the Province of BC and used this initiative to roll out their new program for worker safety which includes truck drivers.
ICBC Road Safety worked with industry like the BC Trucking Association to provide drivers better education on the risks in the Fraser Canyon Corridor.
Bobell Trucking was on this team and worked with ICBC to deliver a trucking questionnaire for commercial vehicle drivers of all heavy commercial vehicles in the corridor. At the time Bobell Trucking had the contract to transport all garbage from the city of Vancouver to the Ashcroft waste disposal site at the north end of the canyon. Bobell Trucking makes 26,000 trips in the canyon per year without any collisions. Validating that driving this corridor safely can be done with the best trucks and the best drivers who practice safety.
ICBC Road Safety made formal presentations to trucking companies, and trucking conferences, as well as police traffic officer training programs.
The results were immediate.
The success was immediate once the engineering work was complete and the high visibility of all enforcement officers. For the first time ever, this corridor experienced 18 months without a fatal crash of any kind.
For the first time ever, this corridor experienced 18 months without a fatal crash of any kind.
Overall reviews have indicated that in the first 10 years of this program there was a 79% reduction in Heavy Commercial Vehicle Fatal Crashes and an overall reduction of 50% for all vehicles. This was not an engineering study but simply a before and after snapshot of the reported crashes.
To date this corridor gets very little enforcement activity compared to the start of this program and still has very few fatal and serious injury collisions. This would indicate that the engineering work has been extremely successful in preventing loss of life in this corridor.