Canada-US safety ratings: Reciprocity cuts both ways
December 1, 2012
The dictionary definition of reciprocity is the relation or policy in commercial dealings between countries by which corresponding advantages or privileges are granted by each country to the citizens of the other. In plain English and in...
The dictionary definition of reciprocity is the relation or policy in commercial dealings between countries by which corresponding advantages or privileges are granted by each country to the citizens of the other. In plain English and in relation to Canada-US trucking, for example, what reciprocity usually means is that we’ll accept what you do if you’ll accept what we do.
It does not mean that everything needs to be harmonized, but it infers that at the end of the day, while rules and mechanisms may be different, final outcomes are more or less the same. Where this is so, and where reciprocal agreements between Canada and the United States can be worked out, it is usually a good thing. But things don’t always work out as planned.
Take Canada-US safety ratings reciprocity for example. Way back in 1994, Transport Canada and the US DoT signed a Memorandum of Understanding that each country would be responsible for monitoring a motor carrier’s compliance and safety performance in the carrier’s home jurisdiction.
The MOU also obliged both countries to endeavour to establish mutually compatible safety rating and audit programs. Fast-forward to 2007 when an FMCSA “Canadian Issues” study concluded both countries share similar vision statements, missions and objectives to reduce truck collisions and recommended they work together to establish a safety ratings reciprocity agreement.
Under the agreement, a Canadian carrier who operates throughout Canada and the US would have its safety performance activity (collisions, inspections and convictions) in both countries collected, calculated and monitored by its home province.
Under that scenario, a carrier would no longer need both a provincial and an FMCSA profile, or be subject to both provincial and FMCSA compliance reviews. The administrative burden on both government and the industry would be reduced. Safety rating reciprocity was even identified as a deliverable under the Security and Prosperity Partnership initiative.
Work continued and in 2008 the FMCSA and CCMTA agreed in principle to reciprocally recognize each other’s safety ratings.
A bilateral working group on motor carrier data exchange – which is a key to the whole thing actually working – was established.
A number of provinces dropped the requirement for US carriers to register in their jurisdiction and stopped keeping profiles of those carriers. They did, however, begin sending the data on the US carriers’ safety performance in their provinces to the FMCSA.
Information also started flowing the other way as the provinces began to receive data from FMCSA on the US performance of Canadian carriers and using that data to populate the provincial carrier profiles.
But then the wheels started to come off. There were a number of technical issues that were difficult to resolve. Legal issues emerged which prevented FMCSA from using Canadian data to rate US carriers.
But most important, it seems, was an apparent change of heart on the whole concept of reciprocity by the FMCSA which – not incidentally – coincided with the agency’s transition from Safestat to its Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program.
CSA differs from the Canadian profile systems in some important areas; ie., pointing all violations from roadside inspections (not just out-of-service violations as is the case in Canada) on the carrier profile; and, not accounting for fault on the carrier’s collision profile. In the end, FMCSA would not give up its authority to monitor Canadian carriers and/or to conduct compliance reviews on Canadian soil.
The Canadian provinces moved forward on safety ratings reciprocity in good faith. Anyone involved in the CCMTA process knows this. The provinces invested significant effort and resources in this process. While some may still cling to the hope that all is not lost and that an agreement can still be achieved, the reality is that the prospects for safety ratings reciprocity are zilch. And, until that is acknowledged and resolved, an unlevel playing field exists between domestic and US carriers in eight of the 10 provinces.
Currently, four provinces are using US inspection and collision data in their carrier profiles: British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. These provinces are (as they have done since 2007) still collecting and sending information on US carriers operating in their jurisdictions to FMCSA, even though FMCSA is not using the data to populate CSA profiles.
Only two provinces (Ontario and Quebec) require US carriers to register to operate in their jurisdictions. As a result, no one is monitoring and creating a history on US carriers’ activities while they are operating in the other eight provinces.
For CTA and the provincial associations, this is not acceptable. With the failure to achieve a reciprocity agreement, US carriers should be required to register in all provinces they operate in and all provinces should maintain carrier profiles of the US carriers that operate in their jurisdictions. Our motivation is nothing more than to address an inequity that has arisen as a result of the failure to achieve a reciprocal agreement on safety ratings. Reciprocity (and safety) now demands that US carriers be treated in Canada the same as Canadian carriers are treated in the US.