TORONTO, Ont. –It seems unthinkable that a commercial driver with a suspended licence would get behind the wheel of a tractor-trailer and deliver a load. However, the reality is that it’s easier than ever to have your licence revoked and statistics show many suspended drivers continue to drive.
In Ontario, falling behind on child support payments is enough to get your driving privileges revoked and three-day suspensions are now handed out to drivers caught with a blood alcohol level of 0.05 to 0.08%.
Of concern to fleets is that at the same time growing numbers of drivers are having their licences suspended, trucking companies are facing ever-increasing vicarious liability exposure. Relatively new laws such as Bill C-45 (now section 217.1 of the Canadian Criminal Code) mean a trucking company’s managers and owners can be held personally liable – even jailed -if they allow an unqualified driver to operate their vehicles.
To that end, the Ontario Safety League (OSL) and its provincial counterparts across Canada, are now offering a driver’s licence verification program dubbed Pro- Active Driver Check. For the first time, a technology company has obtained real-time access to every provincial and territorial driver’s licence database in the country.
As part of a new service, OSL and its partners can run a real-time check on the current status and class of any driver’s licence and within hours provide a fleet with a “variant report” that shows which drivers hold a suspended or downgraded driver’s licence.
In testing the program, which is powered by technology company VerX Direct, one 1,700-vehicle (non-trucking) fleet found that 37 of its employees were driving company vehicles with suspended licences.
“There just isn’t an opportunity anymore to put your head in the sand and say ‘I didn’t know’,” OSL president Brian Patterson recently told Truck News. “There was a period of time where it was a no harm, no foul situation. But Bill C-45 is the critical changeover Bill. You can’t simply say to yourself ‘It’s the driver’s obligation to ensure his licence is in good standing’.”
Bob Dameron, executive vice-president of VerX Direct, says now that it’s easy and affordable for companies to regularly monitor the validity of their employees’ drivers’ licences, it’s encumbent on fleets to take advantage of the service.
“Up until OSL showed up with this service, they could easily argue there was no way to check this quickly and easily -the only way was to order a full abstract and that can cost a fortune; it just wasn’t feasible,” he said. “That argument and defence goes out the window now because this service does exist.”
The Pro-Active Driver Check program is being billed as a complement to, not replacement of, periodic driver abstract checks. In initial discussions with fleets, Patterson said some companies are showing interest in running monthly checks while others are looking at running reports quarterly.
A carrier simply provides OSL (or its equivalent outside Ontario) with a spreadsheet containing the following information for all drivers it wishes to check: driver’s licence number; employee ID (this can be assigned by OSL); and date of birth (for identification purposes).
Within a day or so, a fleet will receive the variation report indicating which licences, if any, have been suspended or downgraded. The company can then take action in accordance with its own human resources policies and procedures.
Patterson said Canada’s Privacy Commissioner has approved the service, but drivers must first sign a waiver allowing their employer to run the reports. (A pre-existing blanket consent form giving the employer permission to run periodic abstract checks qualifies).
The Ontario Safety League and VerX say the new service brings value to fleets by reducing the time and expense involved in frequently ordering driver abstracts. Pricing is still being ironed out, but it’s expected to cost about $21 per driver for four reports over the course of the year, with volume discounts available. Dameron points out a year’s worth of quarterly reports works out to the cost of roughly one abstract and the process is more timely and less cumbersome, to boot.
Still, the greatest challenge in getting fleets to buy in may be convincing them that it’s a problem in the first place. VerX points out that at any given time, 10% of all drivers on the road have a suspended licence, 75% of suspended drivers continue to drive and that a suspended driver is five times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash.
They acknowledge the percentages are likely lower in the long-haul trucking industry, with drivers routinely having their licence verified at border crossings and inspection stations.
Still, the potential is there for an employee to drive with a suspended licence, especially within regional and municipal fleets.
“You can lose your licence (for three days) on a Saturday night by blowing 0.05% and be taking a run out on Monday morning,” Dameron pointed out, before sharing an anecdote about a cement company that found out one of its employees with a suspended licence was getting a ride to work and then taking a company truck out for the day.
“You self-justify,” Patterson explained. “You say ‘I need to work this week to pay my bills, so I’m going to take the risk.’ The problem is, you never had that discussion with your employer, who’s really taking the risk.”
For more info, call the Ontario Safety League at 905-625-0556 or visit www.osl.org.
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