Opinion: Proposal to axe air brake re-testing is ‘ridiculous’

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So here we are at the start of a new year, and it’s full of unresolved trucking issues right off the bat, especially on the driver training front. I won’t apologize for writing on this subject yet again, as I have in my last two columns, because I’ve had a zillion responses to those two opinion pieces. Nobody’s happy.

And every time I turn around, there’s another reason to be angry. Mostly about how governments just don’t get it. Surprise.

The latest one comes out of Ontario where a recent private member’s bill proposes that the province do away with mandatory air-brake re-testing for drivers as they renew their AZ licences every five years.

Amarjot Sandhu, Conservative MPP for Brampton West, is the man behind this silly bill. Note that this is not a proposal by his party. In fact, Doug Ford’s Conservatives purport to be serious about trucking road safety after the release of a scathing report by the provincial Auditor General which said not enough was being done to ensure road safety. It also said that the Ministry of Transportation had missed the opportunity to remove thousands of unsafe commercial vehicles and drivers from Ontario’s roads.

I guess Mr. Singh didn’t get the memo. He said his motivation was to reduce red tape, which is indeed a Doug Ford promise, but the demand for air-brake knowledge is hardly ‘red tape’. His bill is ridiculous.

As one commenter on our website aptly wrote, “We can’t complain about the shitty quality of drivers and then make it easier to get or renew a licence.”

The auditor’s report found that between 2014 and 2018, the number of inspections by the Ministry decreased by 22%, from over 113,000 in 2014 to fewer than 89,000 in 2018. Why? Because the MTO couldn’t “…fill enforcement officer vacancies, and because the majority of enforcement officers did not meet their individual annual productivity targets for the number of inspections to complete.”

In 2014 Ontario had just under 300 enforcement officers, only about 230 in 2018.

Despite those issues, the report called for increased oversight and effective enforcement of regulations on non-compliant operators. The MTO has initiated “a consultative process” that it believes will conclude with the creation of a truck safety plan. So, yet another round of talking.

The other thing that readers have been calling and e-mailing me about is the MELT program, and pretty much nobody thinks if offers much hope on the driver training scene. At least not the way things are presently constructed in the four provinces where entry-level instruction has been instituted – Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. Quebec doesn’t need the help because it has a training/licensing system that puts other provinces to shame.

In B.C., where better training is arguably most critical, the province has been slow to react. Trying to change that is a lobby group organized on Facebook, led by Victoria-based veteran of the trucking wars Larry Hall. The group is called ‘ADEPT’ — Assembly of Drivers, Educators and Professional Truckers – and it’s pretty active with ideas. Hall has met with government folk, as have two lobbying women who formed an advocacy group Safer Roads Canada. Both Pattie Fair and Ginny Hunter lost loved ones to truck accidents, one of them by way of the notorious Humboldt crash, the other by an inexperienced truck driver in the mountains. I couldn’t tell you why the B.C. government is dragging its heels here.

If it’s any consolation, our American friends are pretty much nowhere on entry-level training. A rulemaking was established three years ago but action has been delayed yet again. Due in February, 2020, it won’t see the light of day ’til 2022. And worse, while it originally included a minimum number training hours, that somehow disappeared in the final rulemaking. A plan without teeth? Looks like it.

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Rolf Lockwood is editor emeritus of Today's Trucking and a regular contributor to Trucknews.com.

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