Legislated or not, the only rule in trucking is “expect change”

by Jim Bray

Whether you’re a fleet owner or a driver, the hand of government is never far away and it can almost seem as if it’s interested only in making your lives more difficult.

The last decade, for example, saw more stringent rules piled on, whether via engine regulations, pollution control mandates, hours of service or whatever. And with new taxes proposed or appearing in various jurisdictions, it appears there’s no end in sight.

According to Stephen Laskowski, senior vice president of the Canadian Trucking Alliance “Change is a permanent feature on the legislative landscape, in that (safety and environmental) rules and requirements are going to get more challenging for carriers to comply with. The status quo is not the future and it’s only going to get tighter.”

In other words, the future belongs to the flexible.

Laskowski said there needs to be a coordinated approach when it comes to any new regulations, however. “The issue is that when (industry and government) manage change and…new technologies, that (the technologies) are ready when they come into the marketplace and the industry is supportive,” he said. “What the industry doesn’t want to see is technologies forced upon them that aren’t market ready because governments believe the industry should adopt (them). That’s where the friction is created and the problems arise.”

An example of such technologies is the abundance of new safety features that are appearing, including lane departure and/or blind spot warnings, adaptive cruise control, and the like. “They’ve improved the performance of drivers on light-duty vehicles,” Laskowski noted, “and you’ll see a migration over to the heavy-duty side.” There’s a commercial element to the heavy-duty side, of course, and Laskowski thinks  legislators could mandate the new technologies there, while leaving them optional on the consumer side.

Laskowski thinks such potential new rules could actually make the roads safer. “If it’s affordable and improves the performance of the fleet then it may just make logical sense,” he said, adding “at the end of the day, how much does a fatality cost the fleet and how much are you willing to pay to avoid that fatality?”

That might be a difficult question to answer. “You can’t measure the accidents you don’t have,” said Gene Orlick, who balances his duties as CTA chairman with operating his Calgary-based fleet. “Most at fault collisions are the result of driver error – the truck driver or the motorist,” he said, “so anything that can help (is good) but what’s the return on investment?” Orlick noted that not all carriers can afford the new technology, but he admitted it might not matter if governments get involved, as he suspects they will. “What they plan to do…is legislate these technologies to the manufacturers and (they’ll) have to have it on their equipment,” he said, though he also thinks there’ll be some grandfathering for old trucks.

Orlick also expects more “green” legislation such as the carbon taxes in Quebec and B.C. “I haven’t seen how it’s going to impact (Alberta) yet or how we’re going to collect it,” he said, “because it’s going to be a flow through tax that has to be paid by the consumer.” Regardless of how Alberta’s NDP ends up extracting the dough, however, Orlick hopes it won’t raise companies’ costs. “We don’t have any room to absorb any more costs or taxes,” he said.

One of the current pushes is for electronic logs, and Orlick said he’s all in for them. “You reduce the cost for auditing purposes,” he said, “and you improve some time for the driver, where they don’t have to…do all this paperwork. ELD’s do that for them. And they can’t cheat.”

Not every trucking company owner is bullish on ELD’s, though. Scott Treanor, president of Shiny Side Up Roadrunner Inc. of Kingsville, Ontario, thinks they’ll cause hassles that his drivers don’t need or deserve. “Electronic logs are going to turn our industry upside down,” he said. “I really think it’s going to make highways much more unsafe.” Treanor, whose company runs perishables to the U.S. East Coast and Midwest via Buffalo and Detroit, noted that crossing the border – especially at Detroit – can eat up a lot of the driver’s on-road time. “We can spend four, five, six hours at the border before we can even get up and going,” he said. “So we’re in a position where you’re allowed so much on-duty time and if they get pulled in (for inspection) you’ve chewed up your on-duty time plus now you’re into your driving time.”

Treanor said it was better when drivers were allowed to split their sleeper berth hours. “They used to allow the split any way a driver wanted to do it as long as it was a minimum of two hours (in the berth),” he said. “What (some) of my guys would do…was drive five hours, sleep five hours, drive five, sleep five and so on. This was a much better way for the drivers to pace themselves and not drive tired.”

ELD’s, Treanor said, are going to “back us up between 12 and 24 hours to make deliveries – and we’re talking perishables.” He thinks they’ll hamstring good drivers, too. “If you have good people you don’t have to worry about it,” he said. “There’s no load worth the life of a driver or a pedestrian, so if a driver calls us and says he’s tired and has to pull over our first response is ‘absolutely,’ because I know at the end of the day he’s going to know how to make (it) work. But when electronic logs come in, you won’t be able to do that.”

On the other hand, “ELD’s are nothing to be nervous about if you’ve been operating within the regulations in…manual log books,” said Scott Smith, president of southern Ontario’s JD Smith Logistics Solutions. “Some might suggest the cost of ELD’S is a barrier, but I think that will be a non-issue sooner than later, with the constant simplification and cost reductions as technology and adoption matures.”

Smith noted that technological advances are now making it possible to improve incrementally an already exceptionally safe industry – and he said they don’t have to be disruptive “if government works with OEM’s and the industry, which may not have always happened in the past, but I believe is generally happening now.” He also sees a potential for new technologies and/or legislation to let companies create their own market niches. “If carbon-free zones are legislated, for instance, some may choose to differentiate themselves and their market that way, potentially through equipment decisions and scope of services,” he said.

The bottom line regarding legislation, according to the CTA’s Laskowski, is that there needs to be cooperation. “You can’t write legislation in a silo…without factoring in all three parties,” he said. “Government has their mandate, the OEM’s have their mandate and the carriers have theirs and when you develop a proper process that factors in all three parties, you end up writing legislation that is functional and beneficial for all. When you exclude one of the parties’ concerns, that’s when you run into problems.”


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