DON MILLS, Ont. – When driver Pierre Coutu received a letter from the Ontario Ministry of Transportation informing him that he’s not eligible to drive in the U.S., it came as a shock.
“I don’t know what to do,” said Coutu, who has one good eye. “This means I’ll be out of work.”
The letter informed Coutu that he’s not eligible to drive in the States because of his vision waiver, which allows him to continue driving in Canada.
And while the news may come as a surprise to a number of drivers whose licences or waivers are up for renewal and who have received similar letters from the MTO in recent months, there’s nothing new about it, said MTO spokesman Bob Nichols.
“We’ve been sending these letters out since February 2002,” said Nichols. “And we sent out letters alerting stakeholders back in 1999.”
Coutu’s ineligibility to drive in the States stems from an agreement signed by the Canadian and U.S. governments in 1999. It came into effect March 30 of that year.
The countries agreed the medical provisions of the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations and the Canadian National Safety Code are roughly equivalent. But the agreement also stipulates that certain conditions are not admissible for commercial motor vehicle operators in the States.
Basically, Canadian drivers who are insulin-using diabetics, hearing or vision impaired or epileptic, are not permitted to operate CMVs in the States, even if they manage to get waivers to drive in Canada. (U.S. drivers with medical waivers aren’t necessarily allowed to drive up here either.)
But that doesn’t mean they’re not doing it.
Lack of enforcement is why. The rules aren’t being enforced simply because the governments haven’t yet come up with a new licensing system to identify drivers who aren’t supposed to be on the road south of the border.
The two countries originally agreed to adopt an international licensing code, to be displayed on the licence and the driving record, to identify commercial drivers not qualified to operate outside the borders of their country. The new coding system was to have been implemented by April 1, 2002.
Now that’s been pushed back to 2006, said Ontario Trucking Association vice-president Barrie Montague, who called the agreement old news for the industry.
“There’s nothing new in it. The drivers who are getting those letters would never have been allowed to drive in the States,” said Montague.
That’s because, prior to the signing of the agreement in 1999, drivers from Canada had to obtain U.S. medical certificates every two years, he said.
“And Canadians with those conditions were prohibited from driving in the States back then. The only difference is we gained something in 1999, in that we don’t have to pay for medical examinations in the States anymore.”
Indeed, drivers from Canada have not had to obtain U.S. medical certificates since the agreement was signed. But they haven’t had their licence numbers coded yet either. So they can get away with driving in the States, even though it’s illegal.
That is, until they have an accident.
“The risks of liability are enormous for the carrier, if a driver who’s not admissible in the U.S. gets into an accident,” Montague pointed out.
As for getting a U.S. waiver if you’re Canadian, or a Canadian waiver if you’re from the U.S., forget about it.
“There is no process for that,” said David Longo, a spokesman for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
In other words, if you have a waiver in Canada and continue to drive in the U.S., you do so at great risk to yourself and your employer.