Trucking Journalists Vs. MTO

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For a couple of weeks in February, it seemed as though Today’s Trucking dropped its gloves and decided to hammer the Ontario Ministry of Transportation.

The first story came via Rolf Lockwood. Turns out, the MTO — and more than likely every provincial transportation department across the country — do have quotas. Or “performance expectations” as they call it. I won’t go into details because you can read it here, but suffice to say it was big news. Inspectors, it seems, must find 20 percent of your trucks OOS.

The second, and this one is mine, was in regards to the province of Ontario increasing commercial vehicle licence plate fees by 70 percent, yet weirdly, there are currently a slew of vehicle types running on our highways without plates. You can read that over here. It’s a boring, let’s-look-at-the-traffic-act type story, but important, I think.

As we worked on these stories, I kept being reminded of a line Larry Hall of the North American Truckers Guild said to me last summer when I was writing on the BC inspectors union ad campaign that painted truckers in nasty light. He said the relationship between truckers and inspectors is a tenuous relationship, shaky. He said that truckers and inspectors have come a long way. Inspectors have a job to do, too, he said.

I learned about that job first hand in January when I visited a brand-spanking new inspection station near Putnam, ON. Driver and Apps Transport driver-trainer Guy Broderick was with me, and we got an inside look at their job.

They were good guys, and had that enforcement-vibe coming off them in waves, exactly like police officers do.

I watched how they have to be careful when turning on the inspection lights so as not to cause an accident. I watched them do a mock inspection, and explain how they were happy with all the recent upgrades to the station that made their jobs better and safer.

They have challenges and pressure from their bosses, too — just like everybody else.

The officers we spoke with that day were serious about their job. They knew they could prevent a wheel-off, maybe saving a life or two. They live in the community they work in, and they’ve got a few trucking buddies, too.

Let’s face it, there are companies out there that run rust-buckets on the road. Fly-by night operations. The inspectors catch them. And that’s important. That’s not only important for safety, but also important for the industry in general. One bad crash from a truck that was speeding, with a driver running way over her hours, in a poorly maintained tractor hits the news headlines, casting a shadow over the entire industry, and darkening the public perception of trucking even more — you know how this story goes.

While the relationship between drivers and inspectors is inherently antagonistic, the two groups always naturally at odds, they must work together, productively. And all that takes is a little extra understanding of the others’ job, that they have to answer to someone and that they, too, have a stressful occupation. I think they call this “finding common ground.”

(Although that OOS quota is still pretty crazy.)

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John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking,, TruckTech, Transport Routier, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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