In an industry that’s overregulated, why is this one key regulation missing?

by Bill Cameron

As one of the higher populated provinces, truck drivers in Ontario hold the dubious distinction of being the most overregulated by government.

My own cynical view is that a good deal of the ‘Only in Ontario’ legislation that has been passed has accomplished little or nothing  from a safety standpoint. It has, however, served its purpose by making a truck-frightened public feel safer, usually a handy mood to cultivate at re-election time.

It started in the mid 90s, when the Harris government introduced the legendary wheel-off legislation, opening up carriers to absolute liability of crippling fines in the event of a wheel detachment.

Could a small carrier survive a $50,000 penalty because a driver didn’t perform a thorough pre-trip? None that I know of. Licences were now required to do any wheel and tire service.

My gullible side, as a driver and licensed wheel installer, believes that if a professional operator does a thorough pre-trip, as well as walk-around inspections throughout the trip, that an improperly installed wheel assembly would be caught. Maybe not before wheel and hub damage occurs, but definitely before detachment.

This causes me to believe that the problem will not be solved by yet more government band-aids covering the end result, but by real effort put towards solving the problem at its origin; drivers who are either poorly trained or just not conscientious, the core reason for most problems with drivers.   

Our latest round of legislative mudslinging came from Premier Dad, Dalton McGuinty, and his speed limiters. All the letter-writing campaigns possible were not going to sway the Liberals from passing yet another law that the truck-frightened public would love.  The only reply that I received from then Transport Minister Jim Bradley had the audacity to compare this law to the street racing law. Seriously? A tractor-trailer is to be compared to a crotch rocket motorcycle?

In the midst of the speed limiter legislation being passed, the Liberals also suggested a law that would limit driving hours and place passenger restrictions on teenage drivers. A furious Facebook campaign followed, and the suggested legislation was dropped, proving my point that logical input be damned, public opinion is King in this province.

I still firmly believe that a few trucks driving in excess of 105-110 km/h was not an issue. Inexperienced or experienced but careless truck drivers driving beyond either their abilities, or road conditions, however, was a problem. You do not need excessive speed to be a highway hazard. It’s quite possible to be a jackass at 85 km/h, especially if your training was lacking.   

So how about it, Dalton? Are we ready to rip off that public opinion band-aid and make a real difference to highway safety for a change?

Throughout our childhood years, our education is geared to a mandated curriculum. Whether you are in public, catholic, or any other school system, the government has minimum standards that must be met.

It is possible to move from one school system to another and still meet the necessary basic standards. So why is there not a mandated curriculum for truck driving schools?

Is there really any sense to the fact that a diploma issued by a well-established, highly-respected school may be viewed by some insurance companies as being no better than one issued by some fly-by-night outfit?

Does it seem fair that some folks enroll in a lower-cost school, only to find the diploma worth nothing, because the course was so limited? In an industry that is so regulated otherwise, why are the basic training requirements not regulated?
We need to eliminate courses where the classroom portion of the experience consists of handing the student a driver’s handbook, and telling him or her to read it.

No more training with short, empty trailers, pulled by day cabs. Follow a thorough, detailed, in-class and in-cab curriculum, or you don’t teach. Period.

Refuse to follow the mandated curriculum, and you either lose your teaching licence, or are not granted one in the first place. This curriculum should be created with a great deal of industry input and involve loaded equipment and real-world situations and examples.

We need to have schools that produce safe truck drivers, not just warm bodies with an A/Z licence and the barest minimum of skills. This is one of the reasons that small carriers are unable to hire inexperienced drivers. Insurance companies will not allow a small carrier to sign up a rookie, in part, because they realize that far too many A licences are doled out to unworthy individuals.

These are often the drivers who feel 12 feet is a safe following distance, and that the accelerator pedal is to be mashed to the floor with every gear change.

These are also the drivers who were trained on lightweight, short equipment and then cause major accidents when they are put in front of a multi-axle trailer the next week.

They haven’t been taught nearly as well as they think they were, and end up with an inflated opinion of their own abilities. Our industry is challenging, dangerous and high profile enough that it is plain irresponsible to send out unprepared drivers.  

Are we ready for legislation to change this situation? I think a better question would be how long can we continue as we are?

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