TORONTO, Ont. – The average age of the Canadian truck driver is 46, according to a recent study by the Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council. The CTHRC also estimates the need for truck drivers in Ontario alone, over the next five years, will total 90,000.
Yet Ontario truck drivers aged 65 and older are being discouraged from maintaining their Class A licences by having to perform costly annual road tests regardless of sterling driving records or good health, say road test opponents.
Truck drivers aged 65 and over must not only pass practical tests annually; they must pass air brake tests, written tests and medical exams, also on a yearly basis. Meanwhile, commercial drivers under 65 do not have to submit to practical tests (after they first earn their Class A licences) until they turn 65. And “four-wheelers” aged 80 and over only have to attend education sessions to maintain their licenses – and successfully pass vision and knowledge tests. Practical tests for them – even after they turn 80 – aren’t mandatory.
Discrimination, cry some. Just plain stupid, say others.
“And I don’t even mind doing a road test once in a while. But why should I have to do a road test every year now, when I didn’t have to before then?”
Wilson points to the expense of taking the road test in terms of time taken off work or the cost of renting a tractor-trailer for the test (at about $200 for a couple of hours), which some drivers who only drive part-time may have to do. He feels that drivers aged 65 and older shouldn’t be treated any differently than drivers aged 64 and younger, who are required only to take the road test once to gain their licences and then required to take written tests every five years (and a physical every three) to maintain them.
Wilson believes so-called senior drivers should only have to undergo a road test when they show signs of deterioration during their annual medical, which is also required to maintain their licences, or if an incident occurs which indicates a deterioration of their driving abilities.
Truck driver Jim Rylance, aged 74, who with Wilson has submitted petitions and letters to the Ministry of Transportation and Ontario MPPs, agrees.
“I know there has to be some sort of testing, but let it be for everyone,” he says. “But why should other drivers aged 65 and over be able to retain their licences without on-road testing? And why should it be different for commercial drivers who live in other provinces? It’s not like those drivers aren’t running on Ontario’s roads.”
Indeed, an estimated 72 per cent of all Canada truck transported exports to the U.S. moves through border crossings in Ontario, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics. (The number of exports originating in Ontario is not indicated, however.)
But accusations of discrimination against Ontario truck drivers, if not against truck drivers who are 65 years and older (Ontario “four wheelers” who are over 65 are not required to submit to on road tests every year), are lost on Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation.
“We can’t regulate outside Ontario,” says MTO spokesman Bob Nichols. As for the current licensing requirements: “Principally we have three reasons (for maintaining them). 1) Truck drivers experience greater exposure to high risk situations than other drivers; 2) while there is no specific age at which driving ability has been found to be affected, older persons have a greater likelihood of suffering from cognitive or physical conditions which could affect their performance than younger persons do; 3) there is a greater likelihood that a collision involving large trucks will result in a fatality or a serious injury, and often this occurs to the driver of the smaller vehicle. These three factors, 1) higher exposure to risk; 2) greater prevalence of medical conditions affecting safe driving; and 3) greater consequences should a collision occur, require that Ontario have stricter licensing and testing of older commercial drivers. The policy has been in place for a number of years and we feel it’s reasonable to have a yearly on road test to help ensure older commercial drivers are fully certified to operate large commercial vehicles in public places.”
A letter from Ontario Transport Minister Harinder Takhar to Jim Rylance dated March 2 of this year basically gives the same justification.
In his letter, the minister points to the fact that the current age based testing requirements have been in place since 1976, and are “…based on research that showed that aging, often coupled with medical conditions and the need for medication, could affect a person’s driving ability.” This research, coupled with the requirement for “a higher level of proficiency” required of commercial drivers is what compels the ministry to conduct “frequent testing of commercial drivers in this age group,” allowing the ministry to “closely monitor their driving performance and reduce safety risks,” wrote Takhar.
Even so, Ontario truck drivers are the only ones required to pass a road test every single year, despite federal and provincial efforts to standardize highway safety across the country, via initiatives like the National Safety Code.
In 1987, the federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for transportation and highway safety agreed to develop and implement a National Safety Code (NSC) to encourage trucking safety, promote efficiency in the motor carrier industry, and achieve consistent safety standards in this area across Canada. The NSC was based on a consolidation of existing provincial and territorial legislation and regulations, supplemented with new initiatives designed to further enhance safety across the country.
Safety-related NSC standards cover safety ratings, facility audits, driver and carrier profile systems, trip inspection reports, driver hours of service, commercial vehicle maintenance and inspections, and load security. The code’s administrative standards are supposed to cover self-certification for drivers, single-driver licensing, a classified driver licence system, medical standards, knowledge and performance testing, and a driver-examiner training program.
Between 1987 and 2000, the Government of Canada contributed $44 million towards the development and enforcement of NSC safety standards. Federal, provincial and territorial officials developed and agreed on the allocation of these funds. Federal funding was subject to each province and territory meeting performance targets and information requirements.
In addition, $7 million in funding was approved in 1999/2000 for the upgrade and enhancement of technologically advanced provincial and territorial systems required to capture, integrate and transmit carrier, driver and vehicle data from roadside inspections and facility audits. Once captured, on-road data is forwarded to the carrier’s home jurisdiction for incorporation in the carrier’s safety performance assessment.
The most recent round of funding provided $17.8 million between 2001 and 2004. Funds were directed towards assessing motor carrier safety across Canada in accordance with the NSC safety rating regime.
And as of August, federal and provincial authorities were in discussions with the provinces and territories regarding NSC priorities and associated funding levels through 2008.
But despite all this, provinces still have the final say over how they go about licensing their truck drivers, says Brian Orrbine, chief of the Road Safety and Motor Vehicle Regulation Directorate for Transport Canada’s Motor Carrier Group.
“The National Safety Code isn’t a regulation, it’s a series of standards that provinces use, often as a template, to write regulations. But it doesn’t restrict them or force them to adopt anything. There’s no federal regulation for driver licensing.”
Indeed Ontario has every right to legislate in its own jurisdiction, says Ontario Trucking Association vice-president Barry Montague, who would nevertheless like
to see some changes to the current licensing regime for older drivers.
“With an annual medical exam, you’d think they’d be able to detect any significant risk,” he says. “Having to be road tested and having to obtain the time and the necessary equipment to do so every year seems unduly onerous. Perhaps it would be better to stagger it a bit more – for example do it at 65 and then again at 70, and then every two or three years.
“These older drivers do provide a valuable marginal supply of labour to the industry,” continued Montague. “Of course the government would say ‘If you want that guy to work for you, you should pay for the truck and for the time for him to renew his licence.'”
Be that as it may, trucking insiders in other provinces are quite happy their truckers don’t have to meet the same requirements that Ontario drivers do.
Manitoba Trucking Association general manager Bob Dolyniuk thinks Ontario’s system doesn’t make any sense.
“Our drivers aged 65 and over have to go for medicals every year but they don’t have to go for road tests annually unless there’s an incident that would cause them to be retested. Testing all drivers aged 65 or older every year is like saying everybody under 25 should be tested every year. You could argue for testing them annually just as easily.”
Mayne Root, the interim director of the Alberta Motor Transport Association says that if the province suddenly decided to make drivers take a road test every year as of 65, “our industry would have something to say about it.” In Alberta, drivers 65 and older are required to take a yearly medical and must only take a road test if their doctor recommends it.
In Quebec, maintaining your Class 1, 2 or 3 licence means you have to go for a medical at 45, 55, 60 and 65, and then every two years after that. You’re only road tested if there’s a problem.
Indeed, Ontario’s age based road testing is generally viewed as something of an anomaly.
“We don’t have that kind of requirement here,” says BCTA president and CEO Paul Landry. “And if we did I would want to be satisfied that there was in fact a problem associated with senior truck drivers – it’s certainly not clear to me that an older professional driver is any more or less of a problem than other drivers.”
Indeed, the general opinion in the industry appears to be that older commercial drivers are safer than younger drivers.
One of the reasons the average age of Canadian truck drivers is 46 is because insurance companies won’t insure younger drivers, says CTHRC research project manager Ray Barton.
“The general reason the average age of truck drivers is older than the average age of the general working public is largely due to insurance issues,” says Barton. “That’s why there are very few working commercial drivers under 25.”
Markel Insurance vice-president of Underwriting Tim Courtney, for his part, says age doesn’t play a factor in commercial driver insurability. And he says his company hasn’t even seen any statistical evidence to indicate older drivers are more likely to have traffic accidents.
Indeed, the only evidence that Truck News was able to gather indicates there is no discernible difference between the performance of younger and older truck drivers.
In 1995, the U. S. Federal Highway Administration Office of Motor Carriers (which has since become the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) sponsored a research project to look at the effects of aging on older commercial drivers. Researchers studied licensed and employed commercial drivers (trucks and buses) as young as 50 to the mid-70s. In a set of driving tasks in a truck driving simulator, older drivers did not perform any differently than younger drivers in a control group. Although older drivers had reduced vision capabilities, range of motion limitations, and slightly slower reaction times, they were clearly able to compensate for any loss of physical abilities when they were in the simulator.
(The official citation for the final report of this program is: Llaneras, Swezey, Brock, Van Cott and Rogers (1995) Research to enhance the safe driving performance of older commercial vehicle drivers. Federal Highway Administration, Office of Motor Carriers, U. S. Department of Transportation, Washington, DC. PB96-176839.)
Add to that the general consensus, in the industry at least, that truck drivers tend to get better as they get older and more experienced.
“We need these people. They’re our best trainers,” says Kim Richardson, president of KRTS Transportation Specialists, a truck driver training school based in Caledonia, Ont.
“And after years of evaluating companies and their drivers I can tell you the best carriers feel the same. So basically what the government is doing by forcing these drivers to test every year, is encouraging drivers with more experience to get off the road,” says Richardson.
But are drivers aged 65 and older really discouraged from driving truck by having to take an annual road test, even if their driving records and health are A-1? According to Al Wilson and Jim Rylance, as well as the 500 some Ontario truck drivers of all ages who’ve signed their petition to date, they are.
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