Driving through mountain passes can be harrowing for any driver, but for semi-trailers the voyage can be even more so, that’s why it’s important that drivers are aware of the risks of making such a journey.
Andy Roberts, president of Mountain Transport Institute, which teaches truck drivers how to navigate mountain passes in the Kootnay mountain range, said the number of drivers who know how to drive through the mountains is probably low as the terrain for the majority of the country is mostly flat.
“Really, it comes back to the owner of the vehicle to make sure that whoever is sent into a situation where they have to travel long steep grades that they are experienced or have had training on how to do that safely,” he said.
Recently, there has been talk of mandatory entry-level training across Canada, which some provinces have already implemented and others are looking to implement. Currently, there is a national occupational standard across Canada for truck drivers and historically the requirement to safely travel through mountain passes was part of the national standard, although that has since been removed.
“Obviously, it’s considered specialized training…So, if you were going to operate in the western parts of Alberta or into British Columbia, that would be a skill you would absolutely want to have,” said Roberts.
Although drivers are now not required to have mountain training, Roberts believes it should be part of the curriculum.
“It’s a little bit hard to justify to somebody who lives somewhere that has no mountains how to do it safely, but it is critical that inside the curriculum in the classroom that there is adequate information given to the students, and taught to the students, that even if they’re only tested on it from a knowledge standpoint, not on a hands-on skills standpoint, because there’s no mountains or hills available. I think it’s a critical part of being a professional driver in Canada.”
Around 500,000 trucking accidents occur every year in the United States, with about 5,000 per year resulting in death, according to McAleer Law.
Sixty-eight percent of all fatal truck accidents happened in rural areas with more than half of all fatal truck accidents occurring during the day. About 71% of large truck crashes occur when the weather is clear and the roads dry.
While it’s difficult to say whether accidents that happen on mountain roads are the result of a lack of training, Roberts advises drivers should slow down when driving down the slope of a mountain.
“I think the biggest thing for people to recognize is that the braking system – in any vehicle not just in trucks – braking systems were never designed to hold you back going down a hill. They were designed to slow you down so you can make a downshift and they were designed to stop you…
“If they would just start off at the top of the hill in a low enough gear that the vehicle and the engine braking system, any auxiliary retarding system they might have, will keep the vehicle speed in check so that they don’t have to use their brakes then they’re going to be safe.”
Other mountain driving tips given by Roberts include training next to a certified or experienced driver and asking questions to gain knowledge.
“I think a big part of this is people who have never experienced the mountains they don’t know any different – they think they’re just driving. They have to respect the amount of weight they’re vehicle has and the steepness of the grade and the sharpness of the corners,” said Roberts.
“The number one rule is that there isn’t a load out there that is worth your life so you just have to make sure that you get where you’re going safely so that you get home at the end of the day.”

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