Conduct reviews begin this spring

by Carroll McCormick

MONTREAL, Que. – In March or April of the new year, Quebec’s new evaluation mechanism will go into high gear. It’s just a matter of getting all the chips in order.

The exact date when reviews of owner and operator files will begin is linked to the unveiling of the computer system that will track the ratings on a day-to-day basis, says Guy Mailhot, a senior advisor to SAAQ (Quebec’s enforcement arm) on the carrier evaluation process.

Owners and operators can, however, still be hauled on the carpet on the basis of single events such as critical defects, accidents, outstanding cases or complaints resulting in unsatisfactory inspections.

When the computer system is switched on, industry members who have been accumulating points in their files since July because of infractions or unsatisfactory audits will begin to feel the heat.

Too many points will lead to warning letters from the Societe de l’Assurance Automobile du Quebec (SAAQ). If poor performance continues, the SAAQ will forward an owner or operator’s file to the Commission des Transports de Quebec (CTQ), where corrective measures will be imposed.

In the worst case, they’ll lose the right to operate.

“The last place you want to be is in front of the CTQ board,” says Stephan Lamarre, a lawyer with the Montreal firm Flynn, Rivard. “The commission can impose just about anything they think will help your organization. They have huge discretion.” Lamarre adds that, “they are aware of the rules but they don’t all see their roles in the same way.”

Lamarre, who has represented a handful of clients brought before the board, thinks the body will be helpful at the beginning and will give owners and operators a chance to reform. The process is not all one-sided, either, he says. “You have a right to prepare a defence, to check if what the CTQ is telling you is right … to show them they are wrong.” But, he adds, “the goal of this system is to kick out the bad players.”

Already, even though performance reviews have yet to begin, 42 files have been reviewed before the CTQ because of public complaints or major incidents. Twenty-one of those files have been terminated, meaning the right to operate has been revoked.

During the transition period from June 1998 to April 1999, about 400 owners and operators with spotty records were called before the CTQ to explain what they were doing to improve the safety of their operations, according to Gilles Tremblay, the adjunct to the president of the CTQ. “They had fines, infractions and poor replies to questions about their operations.”

Under Bill 430, the Act respecting owners and operators of heavy vehicles, all heavy vehicle owner and operators must register with the CTQ; 56,000 are currently registered.

A draft of the evaluation rating mechanism was issued in February 1999. The final version, called the Conduct Review Policy for Heavy Vehicle Owners and Operators, was made public in November.

At the time the draft evaluation rating mechanism was issued, its structure had been pretty well worked out: Offences, accidents and major critical defects discovered during road checks or quality control inspections would be entered into owners’ and operators’ files. Owners and operators who represented the greatest risk would be identified by three mechanisms:

Ongoing conduct reviews, which would assess them according to the number and type of events entered in their files within a two-year window. New events are continually entered, but disappear from files after two years;

Conduct reviews during carrier audits to ensure compliance with regulatory and record-keeping requirements;

Critical events, which include fatalities where drivers are found to be at fault, critical defects, and driving a vehicle loaded with dangerous substances in a tunnel.

What had not been determined was the number of points assigned to each infraction, and the thresholds for various fleet sizes. This information is now available with the publication of the Conduct Policy Review. Offences are worth between one and five points. For example, a missing rear view mirror or exhaust, a loose headlight, missing reflectors, driving with an obstructed view, driving too slow or too fast or exceeding axle load by not more than 5,000 kg is worth one point. Three-point infractions include tailgating, driving in a race for a wager or stake, or having more than one logbook. Five-point offences include weight violations over 10,000 kg and criminal code offences such as impaired driving or manslaughter.

Threshold values for fleet sizes, in one-vehicle increments from one truck to 2,000 power units, have been determined.

Lamarre expects that owners and operators will likely begin fighting more tickets in court than they used to, since offences don’t simply vanish with the payment of fines, as was the case before Bill 430. Now every offence “earns” points.

There are undoubtedly bugs to work out of the system. For example, carrier representatives at a November training seminar offered by the Quebec Trucking Association expressed concern about SAAQ highway inspectors’ knowledge of Bill 430.

Michael Derry, the safety supervisor with XTL, also believes that the issue of the percentage of miles driven in Quebec needs to be fine-tuned. “Relative allowances for equipment type, area of travel and relative mileage” need to be worked out, he says. He also made passing reference to possible loopholes in Bill 430, but refused to elaborate. n

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