Points shouldn’t be assigned when charges are beat

by Blair Gough

Ontario’s Commercial Vehicle Operator Record (CVOR) has come a long way since its humble beginnings back in the mid-80s, and I’ll be the first to admit that it now serves as a pretty good indicator of a carrier’s compliance and safety performance. But there are still a few areas that need to change-or at least deserve serious consideration-in any ministry assessment of the program.

Consider the way accidents are handled. As it now stands, there is a sliding scale of points depending on whether an accident involved only property damage, personal injury, or a fatality. The points that are assigned depend on whether there is an “impropriety” or charges laid as a result of an accident.

Let’s first deal with cases that involve recorded improprieties. Box 33 on an Ontario accident report form includes 12 driver actions that are considered improper. “Follow too close,” “speed too fast for condition,” “lost control,” and “improper lane change,” are among those that can be found on the checklist.

I’m familiar with a few cases that were hurt by the simple checking of a box.

In one case, the carrier has a four-point accident on its record thanks to a three-vehicle collision. The truck driver lost control of his vehicle as he swerved to avoid a car that ran a light. He then collided with another vehicle. He wasn’t charged, but because Box 33 noted “lost control” and a personal injury was involved, the carrier picks up four points for the accident.

In another bizarre incident, a truck backing into a loading dock (with the tractor on the street) was hit by a car sliding backwards down an icy hill. It struck his blind side.

Box 33 notes “improper turn”, and nets the company two CVOR points.

In yet another situation, a driver took evasive action to avoid a deer and ditched the truck. He “lost control” – along with two points.

In hindsight, he should just have run over the beast.

In all of these cases, the Ontario Provincial Police would not amend the accident reports, even though officers were sympathetic when they heard how the situation would affect the carrier’s CVOR.

The “charge” component is an even greater injustice. When a charge is laid as the result of an accident, along with an impropriety, additional points are assigned to the CVOR. For example, if a driver’s action is deemed “fail to yield” and there is a corresponding charge of “fail to yield right of way”, four points will be assigned when property is damaged.

Even if the Crown fails to prove the matter in court, the points associated with the fact a trucker was simply charged (and not convicted) remain on the CVOR abstract.

While I’m not taking away from the fact that police officers investigate numerous accidents and, in many cases, insert the proper impropriety code, the telling factor to me is whether a charge is laid and a conviction is registered.

Vehicle detentions lead to a similar problem. One CVOR point is assigned for each out-of-service defect. I don’t have a problem with that, but if charges are laid, I can’t understand why points remain on the record if they are subsequently withdrawn or dismissed in court.

If a charge is laid for “pushrod exceed limits” and the matter is dismissed at trial, this essentially means that the Crown didn’t make its case. There are other out-of-service conditions that involve defects that happen en route and don’t indicate poor maintenance or inspection practices. Flat tires and dead lights come to mind. I’m not suggesting these conditions shouldn’t lead to defects, but a change in form coding would help carriers avoid points for certain defects. The province’s inspectors have plenty of discretionary powers, and most will have the sense to know whether a defect deserves points.

For now, carriers can find themselves hauled on the carpet for interviews or show-cause hearings, even if they beat charges in a court of law.

They’re being re-tried at sanction hearings and it’s not right.

Cool decision

I recently came across a neat case in a Sudbury court that involved the accuracy of measuring the stroke of pushrods before brakes have a chance to cool. Provincial Court Judge G. R. Matte noted the following in a 1998 ruling:

“…the officer conducted the examination of the brakes before they had a chance to cool. And this, on the evidence, may well have affected the accuracy of the results of the inspection.”

The driver in this case was found not guilty of failing to conduct a trip inspection. The reasoning makes some sense.

I was involved in a recent case that saw a trailer placed out of service when three brakes were found out of adjustment. Before it was touched, the carrier called a third-party mechanic to the scene to conduct an accurate brake inspection when the brakes were cold.

He found that not a single brake on a Type 30 chamber was over the prescribed two-inch limit. This one should be fun to fight in court .n

Blair Gough is a consultant to the trucking industry and can be reached at 905-689-2727.

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