EDMONTON, Alta. - In November, Truck News learned Alberta will become the latest province to place a restriction on the commercial driver's licences held by drivers who take their road test using a tr...
EDMONTON, Alta. –In November, Truck News learned Alberta will become the latest province to place a restriction on the commercial driver’s licences held by drivers who take their road test using a truck with an automated transmission.
The province quietly announced that Class 1, 2 and 3 licence-holders who passed their road test using an automated mechanical or fully-automatic transmission would receive a restricted licence allowing them only to operate commercial vehicles with automated gearboxes.
Alberta joins a growing list of provinces that now provide a restricted licence for commercial drivers who use automated transmissions on road tests. The list now includes: B.C.; Alberta; Saskatchewan; Ontario; and Quebec. Only Manitoba and the Atlantic provinces allow full privileges for commercial drivers who haven’t demonstrated an ability to operate manual transmissions during their road test.
The increased prevalence of automated transmissions in the Canadian trucking industry is forcing provinces to re-think their road test criteria. Ontario caused a stir when it introduced new equipment requirements including the use of a manual transmission last year, but that was mostly because senior drivers who in that province must be road tested every year after the age of 65 were also included.
Many gear-jamming veterans have made the transition to automated transmissions after millions of miles of safe driving. The province acknowledged that it erred and in November exempted senior drivers from the requirement while keeping the restricted licence in place for new drivers who take their road test using an automatic.
The industry seems divided on whether provinces should be restricting professional drivers from operating certain types of equipment.
Kim Richardson, owner of Ontario truck training school KRTS Transportation Specialists, said the restrictions are a bit of a joke.
“How are they going to enforce it?” he asked. “Are they going to set up spot checks for people driving automatics? It’s ridiculous in my opinion. It’s just another example of poor management at the government level…as a rule, the general industry is not going to allow someone to operate equipment that they haven’t had the proper training on, regardless of whether they were tested on it.”
But not everyone agrees; and in fact the trucking association from one of the few provinces that has yet to impose a restriction says it would welcome the change. Bob Dolyniuk, general manager of the Manitoba Trucking Association (MTA), says he has concerns about drivers operating equipment they may not know how to properly use. With automated transmissions becoming more popular, he said the province should impose restrictions much the same way it did when automatic transmission-equipped cars began hitting the roads.
“In those days, if you were tested on an automatic transmission, you were restricted to driving a car with an automatic transmission,” said Dolyniuk. “Quite frankly, I have the same questions in mind when we’re talking about someone road testing with an automated transmission today and then tomorrow afternoon being legal to operate a vehicle with a standard transmission which they may not have proven competency on.”
While MTA hasn’t officially lobbied the province to introduce a restricted class licence, Dolyniuk said some driving schools have expressed concern over the issue and he said “I think we’re going to be entering into discussions.”
Andy Roberts, owner of training school Mountain Transport Institute in Castlegar, B.C., said drivers should become proficient at shifting before they begin their driving career and welcomed the news that Alberta was introducing a restriction.
“You hear hearsay of schools in Alberta that have trucks with automated transmissions teaching people to drive in six hours,” he said. “They don’t teach them how to shift, they just teach them the road test route and the guy could pass the test and get a full-fledged licence and take a load of B-trains over the Coquihalla (using a manual transmission).”
Roberts is a big fan of automated transmissions, but worries they don’t give new drivers a true sense of the weight they’re hauling or the handling characteristics of their vehicle.
“I think the technology is fabulous but one of the challenges today is that, you look at the horsepower that’s available, the braking horsepower available in the engine brake, the automated transmission -a lot of these people don’t have a grasp on the weight they’re dealing with because the truck is becoming so easy to drive,” Roberts said. “And what happens when a truck breaks down and the rental company doesn’t have an automatic? Now what do we do? You can’t legally operate that truck.”
While Roberts feels some proficiency on shifting gears should be required by all professional drivers, he said he understands why trucking companies are automating their fleets. MTI runs a truck with an automated transmission and Roberts said he feels less fatigued after a trip with that truck.
“We had a guy a few years ago who counted and claimed he made 1,000 shifts from here to Hope, B.C. pulling Super-Bs,” Roberts recalled. “It’s not just the physical movement of the stick (that’s tiring), it’s the mental calculations you have to do to shift. You have to pay really close attention to that all the time.”
Many fleet managers have become so enamoured by automated transmissions that it can now be difficult to find a linehaul job that doesn’t come complete with an automated transmission-equipped company truck. That irks Paul Kauler, a long-time driver whose disdain for the technology has often left him on the sidelines as he turns down job opportunities that don’t include a manual transmission.
“At this point, you cannot have a standard truck in a linehaul job unless you are an owner/operator,” he said. Kauler firmly believes the increasing popularity of automated transmissions is creating a new breed of dangerous driver -and he speaks from experience. He was involved in a rollover while resting in the bunk running team across the prairies. He said the driver behind the wheel became inattentive because the truck had an automated transmission. That same driver never learned how to drive a standard, Kauler said, making him unfit for the job in his opinion.
Kauler said three of four drivers he has personally known who have driven only automatic trucks in their careers have been involved in serious mishaps and he wants Transport Canada to conduct a study on the true safety of automated transmissions in linehaul applications.
“The most important thing for a professional driver is, you need to have absolute control of your truck,” he said. “You need to know how much torque you have on your wheels, especially in a tricky situation like on black ice.”
Kauler feels provinces haven’t gone far enough in restricting drivers who haven’t demonstrated proficiency in shifting during road tests and would like to see a requirement for drivers to collect a certain amount of experience with manual transmissions before being allowed to drive an automatic. Think of it as a reverse restriction, which requires new drivers to operate standard transmissions until they’ve demonstrated their shifting proficiency and earned the right to move to an automatic.
Despite the varying opinions on the matter, it seems unlikely that the trend towards automated transmissions is going to be reversed any time soon.
KRTS’s Richardson estimates 80% of his fleet customers will be fully automated within five years and some even sooner and he said provinces should be embracing the change.