Truck News


Roadcheck numbers are still misleading

When we look at the out-of-service rates posted during the annual Roadcheck inspection blitz, final results leap from the page - but not simply because the industry's compliance rate is improving. Whi...

LOBBY LEADER: David Bradley
LOBBY LEADER: David Bradley

When we look at the out-of-service rates posted during the annual Roadcheck inspection blitz, final results leap from the page – but not simply because the industry’s compliance rate is improving. While they’re presented as a benchmark of vehicle compliance, the numbers that are released every June continue to be misleading.

Statistics released by Region 5 of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (which covers Canada) continue to compare the number of failed vehicles to the total number of inspected vehicles. A more statistically relevant figure would compare the number of failed vehicles to a greater population of vehicles on the road.

Rather than stating 87 per cent of the vehicles were found to have no defects during Roadcheck 2000 – when you count those that aren’t re-inspected because they have valid CVSA stickers – the official release states that 23 per cent of vehicles failed inspections. Why is this comparison used? Roadcheck lacks a clearly stated purpose, and the reporting procedure is inconsistent.

It’s a problem that can be traced back to the early days of the inspection blitz. In previous years, many jurisdictions failed to accurately count vehicles that were allowed to pass through inspection sites because they had valid CVSA decals. This meant that the only number that was consistently available from all jurisdictions compared the number of failed inspections to the number of trucks that were inspected.

To avoid providing difficult and politically awkward explanations, Roadcheck’s organizers continue to release that number. The trucking industry should be concerned by the assertion that, since vehicles weren’t inspected, enforcement officers can’t be sure there were no defects.

This certainly appears contrary to the principles of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, and displays the group’s distinct lack of confidence in its own enforcement programs.

Now that jurisdictions also provide the number of vehicles that are waived through inspection, it would be equally accurate to say that 87 per cent of vehicles passed inspections.

Would this alarm the public? Would this make enforcement agencies look ineffective? Would it make the industry look irresponsible?

Jurisdictions have indicated that Roadcheck results serve as a performance measure of both their enforcement efforts and the industry’s level of compliance. Others indicate that their media contacts expect such data on an annual basis and its absence would be viewed with suspicion. Still other jurisdictions indicate that dropping the blitz would better suit their agendas and budgets.

Having considered dropping or modifying the event for several years, Roadcheck remains a fixture of our lives with only minor changes. It was originally conducted over 72 continuous hours, but now involves optional closures with some jurisdictions operating inspection sites for only 48 hours.

The decision to remain closed at night, when the traffic is light, could itself skew the numbers. If traffic during the night tends to be long-haul in nature, and the vehicles are operated by companies and drivers that are more serious about trucking – and this night traffic has proven to be largely more compliant than traffic during the day – dropping their contribution would surely lower the compliance rate.

Changes like this are subtle and of little interest to the mainstream media, but the number that is affected by such a change would be interesting.

Meanwhile, the data that was provided by Nova Scotia in 1999 was an obvious reporting error that artificially dropped the national average. Now in 2000 we are left explaining why the number is unchanged from last year.

Recent numbers showing the number of vehicles that were repaired or towed after being inspected were dropped from the 2000 numbers because jurisdictions cannot agree on the vehicles that fall into the category. In some areas, if a driver completed a repair it was not counted; in other cases, only towed vehicles were counted.

The final number is given significant credibility, but poor data, inconsistent procedures, and an unclear objective shadow its significance.

Let’s assume that we get to the point where the results can be defended as being statistically relevant; that what is being reported actually reflects the level of commercial vehicle compliance. This brings us to the more important issue: What can the industry and governments do to bring the number down?

An improving industry gathers little political or media attention, but it is precisely now – when improvement has been consistent – that we need the support for further positive change. n

– David Bradley is president of the Ontario Trucking Association and CEO of the Canadian Trucking Alliance.

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