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Let the facts on hours speak for themselves

The railways' stunt double, Canadians for Responsible and Safe Highways (CRASH), held a "public consultation" on Sept. 28 on the proposed new federal hours-of-service standard. The news release promot...


DAVID BRADLEY: Lobby leader
DAVID BRADLEY: Lobby leader

The railways’ stunt double, Canadians for Responsible and Safe Highways (CRASH), held a “public consultation” on Sept. 28 on the proposed new federal hours-of-service standard. The news release promoting the Toronto event, issued two days earlier, boldly announced that it would focus on “the proposal by federal and provincial governments to allow trucking companies to require their drivers to drive 14 hours at a stretch and for 84 to 96 hours per week.”

It said the meeting had become necessary because governments had “failed to hold promised hearings” on the proposal. Of course, as is often the case with the Railway Association’s anti-truck partner, the truth didn’t get in the way of a good news release.

The promised consultation was really more of a series of speeches from people with an axe to grind against truckers. It was designed to suggest that the hours-of-service proposal was cooked-up by the trucking industry and government behind closed doors.

Its organizers had hoped it would help generate anti-truck ink in the mainstream press just before political sign-off on the proposed hours-of-service regime, a critical time in the development of any controversial policy. It was not designed to present a balanced picture or competing views.

The “consultation” was the latest red herring from a group whose knack for exploiting car-truck accidents makes its tactics resemble ambulance chasing more than advocacy.

But CRASH’s distortion of the facts has taken on such proportions that it would be comical if their stories didn’t still resonate with some members of the media who don’t know better. Or more seriously still, if they didn’t bring on a case of the jitters in a couple of politicians who ought to know better.

But how do we counter CRASH arguments? The answer is simple: by letting the facts speak for themselves.

First of all, CRASH’s claim that the proposal was not the result of broad consultations is laughable.

Anyone who is involved in transportation knows that among the most (if not the most) debated issues today are driver fatigue and the kind of regulatory regime best suited to mitigating it. The causes of fatigue, its effects and their relation to the regulatory environment, have been heatedly discussed and studied by the industry, academics and, for the last three years, by the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators (CCMTA).

The CCMTA’s hours-of-service review process involved an independent panel of experts and dozens of meetings of a working group made up of interested parties ranging from provincial regulators to the Teamsters to the Canadian Trucking Alliance. Although CRASH was also involved in the process, its contribution mostly amounted to complaining about it to the media.

Rarely has a regulatory proposal related to transportation undergone so much scrutiny.

Compare this to the process now underway to change the railway hours-of-service regime: The Railway Association of Canada provides Transport Canada’s Rail Safety Branch with its hours-of-service proposal; the branch reviews it and then decides who should be consulted, and when. When the CTA asked Transport Canada, formally, to be consulted, the department replied by directing us to the Railway Association.

Clearly, the process wasn’t transparent.

The second myth that CRASH likes to perpetuate is that the trucking industry has been driving the process. Again, false.

The CCMTA began the process of reforming the curent hours-of-service regulations in 1997, following completion of the landmark Canada-US Driver Fatigue and Alertness Study that. From the outset, this process has been driven by the knowledge that Canada’s existing regime is not only out of step with science, but dangerous.

The third myth is that the CCMTA proposal is inconsistent with the science of fatigue. The facts say differently.

The CCMTA process was predicated on the comprehensive fatigue-and-alertness study. It has benefited from the independent pane’s input, and now incorporates virtually all its core recommendations.

The fourth and most enduring myth is that the CCMTA proposal would increase time drivers could operate their trucks to 84 hours in seven days without an extended break. That’s wrong.

Drivers would be limited to two cycles: 70 hours in seven days or 120 hours in 14 days. Under the proposed rules, once the driver reaches 70 hours on-duty within a seven day period, he must take a rest and recovery break of a minimum of 36 hours before starting another 70/7 cycle. For a driver to accumulate 84 hours in seven days, he would have had to take a mandatory 36-hour break. This eliminates cumulative fatigue and is the equivalent of starting a new shift.

Under the existing rules, a driver, who shifts between cycles, can legally work up to 104 hours in a seven-day period. CRASH, conveniently, leaves out this bit of information when it explains its opposition to the proposed changes.

The facts speak for themselves: The CCMTA proposal is consistent with objective research, strikes a balance between operational flexibility and enforcement, and has withstood closre scrutiny. Most importantly, it moves the highway-safety yardstick significantly forward.

CRASH now wants yet more consultations. How should governments respond?

One way they must not respond is by buying into hysteria, or by letting CRASH set the rules.

The CTA will support consultations if they are held as part of a regulatory-approval process. But it won’t stand for talks which put the trucking industry on trial or which unduly delaying adoption of a new hours-of-service standard. n

-David Bradley is president of the Ontario Trucking Association and chief executive officer of the Canadian Trucking Alliance.


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