Novel Effort To Reduce Truck Pollution

The government hopes a new piece of fiction will help truckers adopt fuel-efficient habits.

Laying on the horn may grab a transport truck driver's attention. But officials at Natural Resources Canada say getting that same driver to willingly change his driving habits (gear selection, speed, tire pressure, idling and so on) to pollute less takes a more novel approach–a mystery novel, to be exact.

The ministry's thinking goes something like this. When a Canadian trucker reads or listens to Mark Dalton: SmartDriver, the government-funded book by Edo van Belkom released this summer, they just might adopt some of the fuel-efficient habits sprinkled inside. Lynda Harvey, a senior manager in the department's office of energy efficiency, devised the idea while reading one of van Belkom's popular columns in Truck News and Truck West news magazines. Her office has spent nearly 10 years trying to get the commercial fleet to minimize vehicle emissions, but with many rig drivers acting as independent contractors, or owner/operators, attracting a following had, up to now, proved difficult.

Though van Belkom wouldn't call himself a celebrity, the fiction writer is well-known in the Canadian trucking industry for his regular series, Mark Dalton: Owner/Operator, which appears in two of the leading trade publications. “I know what appeals to truckers,” van Belkom says. The Brampton, Ont.-based writer has held positions from driver to crew member to security guard in the trucking industry. He contends his stories are popular for their believability.

That's a good thing, because van Belkom's latest project is pretty unbelievable. Unlike his columns–such as last May's instalment of “A man, his truck and a woman,” where the driver casts his girlfriend aside in favour of his affectionately labelled rig, Mother Load–the new novel has less crass dialogue and a more redeeming message.

So what's the plot of this bureaucrat-guided Mark Dalton adventure? The old pro agrees to take inexperienced Jimmy, a young know-it-all just out of the federal government's SmartDriver program, along for a run. On their cross-country trip, the pair witnesses a hijacking and an attempted murder, but nothing keeps Jimmy from delivering his green driving advice. Even when providing a statement to police, he adds the truck involved had “left in an awful hurry, burning a lot of unnecessary fuel.”

This 160-page paperback manages to average about one reference to a green driving technique every page. The index referencing these tips runs three pages. The book is free (call 1-800-387-2000, or e-mail, so fans should get a kick out of Dalton's tough love. But with gas hovering well over $1 per litre, filling a 400-litre tank might help focus truckers' attention on fuel conservation in ways beyond Natural Resources Canada's wildest hopes.