Changes to air brake endorsement renewals are flawed

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The Ontario Ministry of Transportation recently unveiled a proposal to change the way Z endorsements for air brakes are renewed on a driver’s licence — introducing new learning modules and altering the way knowledge is verified.

Drivers must currently visit a Drive Test Center before a licence expires, and then write and pass a knowledge test to maintain their Z endorsement. That process is the same for those who have a commercial licence, such as a Class A or D, among others.

written tests taken in room
The PMTC would like to see the current renewal process with written tests maintained. (Photo: iStock)

The knowledge test allows drivers to demonstrate they have the basic knowledge required to operate and inspect a commercial motor vehicle and its air brake system.

But knowledge of the air brake system — and a driver’s ability to inspect the underlying parts and operation — continues to be an issue in Ontario and across Canada.

Brake defects are common

The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) completed 48,966 Level 1 and 2 inspections in Canada and the U.S. during the 2022 Roadcheck inspection blitz. A total of 22.8% of vehicles were taken out of service for defects. Of the vehicles taken out of service in the U.S., 36.9% had defects in the braking systems. In Canada, the numbers were even worse, with 48.4% of out-of-service vehicles having brake defects.

Brakes represented the highest percentage of defects found by far, and this continues to be the case year after year. These numbers indicate a major issue with air brake system maintenance and failures, as well as issues with the inspections being conducted prior to a day’s work.

While these numbers indicate we need to change the way things are done, the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada (PMTC) believes removing the knowledge test could reduce driver knowledge of air brake systems and reduce highway safety.

New online learning modules represent a good opportunity to increase driver knowledge, but removing the knowledge verification is a concern.

Allowing a driver to complete learning modules at home — with no other checkpoints or verification in place — opens the opportunity for fraud.

How will the ministry verify that the person completing the module is in fact the licence holder? How can you verify that they are reviewing the information and taking the knowledge in, and not just going through the motions and advancing through the program? No matter what type of secure online system you have in place, their will be no fool-proof way to ensure the person required to take the modules is in fact taking them, short of having a staff member sitting online with the person and verifying the person on the screen is the licence-holder.

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The only true way to verify the licence-holder has the minimum required knowledge is to have them attend a Drive Test Center and perform the knowledge test in person. Adding the knowledge modules is a good step, but it should not come at the expense of a knowledge verification process.

The Ontario Ministry of Transportation’s argument that this is removing a barrier simply does not hold water. The driver is still going to be required to go to Drive Test to renew their licence and do the written test if they have any other commercial class of licence.

The only burden this is removing is the requirement to pass a Z endorsement knowledge test. With many of our members holding all classes of commercial licences, if you are unable to pass the basic requirements of a knowledge test, we really don’t believe you should be on our highways because you do not have the basic knowledge required to inspect and operate a vehicle with an air brake system.

The PMTC is encouraging the province to reconsider this proposal, and we encourage you to comment on the regulatory posting to ensure your views are heard as well. The posting can be accessed here and is open for comments until March 16.

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Mike Millian is president of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada. He can be reached at

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  • It’s useless and waste of time we in ontario have to go through this bs and the rest of the province and drivers from the US don’t have to do any test It’s a money making thing for ontario that’s many people driving in ontario who don’t have to do any test so what nonsense are you ppl saying about air brake knowledge I’m not a mechanic I’m just a driver i do the test but I still can’t fix anything on the air brake system so isn’t it bs..

    • You may not be able to repair it but you still mjust know what to look for when you inspect it to make sure it is save for operation. If you don’t know how to inspect your air brakes and ensure proper operation you are a danger to yourself and other highway users.

      • So what difference dose it make in the USA they don’t have a test and in Canada we and yet we are failing. Ita a waste of time if you pass you still not allowed to adjust your brakes it’s a Joke. Just like ELDS no safer in USA than it was before ELDS …

      • Agreed ! As a person who tests people for the purpose of employment within my company, I have seen many new candidates that are “book-smart” they answer my written test correctly but when it comes time to complete an actual air-brake practical test immediately following the written they are lost, some don’t even know what is a MAJOR and what is a MINOR little own knowing what a MAJOR defect on a commercial vehicle is. Now THAT is a scary momment…..

        Overall improvements need to be vetted throughout all parties involved and I do not see this as a money grab unless costs are added (which they should NOT be).

  • Statistics show that improvements to the current system are desperately
    needed. I don’t disagree, I cannot support that a learning module that will eventually be alllowed to be taken online be an alternative to a knowledge based IN PERSON test. I would like to see the knowledge test be improved to include pictures of the air brake systems and some examples of IN SERVICE & OUT OF SERVICE (Minor/Major Defects) I am unsure if I read the article correctly, but I thought I saw somewhere that these “e-Learning” sessions might be downloaded to employers?
    No employer wants to take on that liability in my opinion. As an employer we all want safer roads (Lower CVOR scores) and will work to ASSIST but not replace a current model that needs an overhaul. Employers expect a driver to maintain a “valid” driver’s license as part of their employment. I am in favor of a “learning module” being ADDED to the mandatory written knowledge test currently managed by our Ministry of Ontario approved Drive TEST centers.

  • I doubt anyone will read this, or even care, I’ve been driving Tractor Trailer’s for 45+ years now, totally accident free, ( touch wood) not recognized, but I don’t care about this, every time I do that “Z” endorsement test, I fail it 4 or 5 times! I do the basic test on pre-trip, charge the system, shut everything down and listen for air leaks, and then I blow it down till the buzzer comes on, and I have a look at the brakes, to see if they are within spec’s, I NEVER touch anything underneath, as I am NOT A LICENSED MECHANIC, and HAVE NO BUSINESS under there, touching anything! If anything is NOT normal, it’s OUT OF SERVICE! That’s it!!! PLAIN and simple!! COMMON SENSE!! We are NOT MECHANICS!! I ran L.A. For 13 years, out of Milton On., So I have a lot of driving experience, if anyone is wondering how much driving experience, I have! Thank You!