Truck inspection quotas raise safety concerns

Many Ontario transportation enforcement officers (TEOs) are unhappy with working conditions that they say compromise safety on the job. But are these workplace concerns compromising road safety as well?

There’s reason to believe they are. Five enforcement officers recently told Today’s Trucking that a quota-based system forces them to focus on quantity over quality. It has long been suspected that Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation (MTO) adheres enforcement officers to a quota, and now it’s been confirmed by multiple inspectors and even a report commissioned by the MTO itself.

The magic number is 600 per year. Officers say they receive poor performance reviews if they don’t meet that number. Why is that problematic? Well, several TEOs told us they regularly inspect clean, late-model trucks because those inspections can be done faster, helping them meet their quota.

When we first reported this on TruckNews.com, several drivers tweeted they’ve witnessed this first-hand. One driver reported having his brand new truck pulled in for inspection twice within its first two weeks of service.

This is worrying because it can potentially paint an inaccurate picture of the province’s truck safety. If newer trucks are being inspected disproportionately, then we can forget about the truck safety stats the MTO feeds us and the general public.

It’s also worrying because the quota system means trucks that pose the greatest risk are potentially ignored, while low-risk trucks are brought in for inspection.

Not every enforcement officer is involved in such protest actions. As reported elsewhere in this issue, one enforcement officer told me he continues to target high-risk trucks even though he suffers a poor performance review due to missing his 600-inspection quota. What’s clear is that the quota system has to be abandoned if truck safety is to be enhanced.

I’d rather see officers inspect 400 ratty old trucks than 600 new ones. Let’s put the enforcement focus back where it belongs — on marginal, unsafe operators.

But until the MTO and its front-line enforcement regime get onto the same page, it’s unlikely to happen. The above-mentioned report by the Public Services Health and Safety Association (PSHSA) revealed a long list of legitimate safety concerns faced by enforcement officers.

Officers tell us those concerns have yet to be addressed and that further work actions — such as the work refusal that temporarily took all TEOs off the job on Jan. 23 — are likely to come.

There’s little reason to believe the MTO will address safety concerns raised by its enforcement personnel. In fact, the PSHSA report repeats many of the same concerns that were highlighted in a 1998 report produced by A.F. Montgomery and Associates. More than 20 years later, the same safety concerns seem to exist, as do the same tensions between MTO and some of its frontline officers.

Ontario’s truck enforcement officers play a vital role in ensuring the safety of our highways. They protect us from bad actors and routinely prevent catastrophic crashes from happening before it’s too late. But a disgruntled workforce driven by management to meet a quota is not an effective workforce.

MTO needs to address legitimate safety concerns raised by members of Ontario’s enforcement community, and do away with a quota system that incentivizes targeting clean, late model equipment instead of the trucks that pose the greatest risk to public safety.

Denying the quota exists is not the answer. Eliminating the quota and encouraging TEOs to target high-risk trucks is.

James Menzies

James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 18 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at james@newcom.ca or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

Have your say

We won't publish or share your data

*

  • This article is 100% accurate. There is a quota system, and all that matters is us reaching our 600. The management doesn’t care which 600… Just 600! What do the OTA members think about this?

  • Common sense is not something that you can educate, regulate or legislate. The MTO should keep that in mind. Naturally, the older trucks will show signs of their age and sign of wear and tear that needs to be addressed, more so than in newer ones.

  • What I would like to know is why aren’t the MTO going after the bad actors. We all know who they are yet these fly-by-night companies get to drive trucks up and down the highway. It’s nothing more than a numbers game. Maybe the MTO should take a lesson, say in the Peel Region, where the police truck enforcement unit writes 6 tickets for a light-out defect or 1 for brake-out adjustment. They obviously are meeting their quotas or as I call it Job Performance Expectations. Until everyone gets rid of these stupid number system, substandard operators will continue to get a free pass.

    • This one hits home. I had a brake out of adjustment a few years back. It was only an 1/8th out and all they could find on me. Got a fail to carry pre trip docs, failed to perform pre trip, drive with a major, and 2 others I cant recall specifically. 5 tickets for one chamber out by an 8th. The truck was just washed hours before. I was empty. Whole rig was only a couple years old. The kicker? 2 trucks that literally had duct tape holding the bumper or fender together got green lighted.

  • Perhaps the industry itself holds the solution.

    This tact taken by the MTO is quite reminiscent of Toronto Police Service’s Stop and Frisk campaign. In the end, that didn’t work out so well for them.

    Maybe it’s time for good carriers, drivers and operators of new equipment to make the complaint, individually, through their elected representatives, and through their industry associations, that they are unfairly, and disproportionately, targeted because they have “easy-to-inspect” equipment and the chance of a violation is highly unlikely, resulting in less work/more inspections by MTO enforcement officers.

    The targeting of good carriers, drivers and new equipment owners also costs these people more money by having to waste time going through unnecessary inspections. This unfairly “un-levels” the playing field as the unsafe and uninspected carriers do not have the inspection expense, nor do they have the expense of proper repair and maintenance required of safe trucks and drivers.

    On the other hand, it could very well be that the profitable thing for good carriers to do is to follow the age old axiom “If you can’t beat them, join them”. Let’s face it, the moral high ground has never been profitable anyways.

    Maybe we should all have half a dozen CVOR numbers to fall back on, rent our equipment from a bogus 3rd party, adopt the Driver Inc. model, forgo safety standards and maintenance, register only 10% of our fleets with facility insurance and lie through our teeth about where we travel. Take the industry for all it’s worth, and get out while the getting is good !!!

    Truth be told, the chances of getting caught really are pretty slim. As evidence, I present the state of the industry as it is today.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating behavior that borders on the criminal, but without some sort of intervention, government support, and meaningful enforcement, the trucking industry in Ontario, and by extension the rest of Canada, is going to become the Wild West of yesteryear.

    Is that what we really want?