WHAT'S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?: Passing a road test with the tractor-trailer pictured would not allow a driver with three million accident-free miles to keep his A/Z licence. Why? Because new testing requirements in Ontario don't allow drivers -including experienced drivers -to take their road test using a truck with an automated transmission.
TORONTO, Ont. –Changes to Ontario’s A/Z licensing requirements implemented last year, are making it more difficult for some senior drivers to maintain their commercial driver’s licence.
Ontario introduced a “restricted” Class A/Z licence last June, to close loopholes that were allowing inexperienced drivers to obtain an A/Z licence using small vehicles such as a pick-up truck with horse trailer. The Ministry of Transportation (MTO) was embarrassed into action after a Global TV news reporter obtained a Class A licence without ever driving a tractor-trailer.
Now, drivers must take their road test using a truck with: a manual transmission; a fifth wheel coupling; a trailer at least 45-ft. long;and air brakes on the tractor and trailer.
Otherwise, they are downgraded to an A/Z-restricted licence, and able to operate only the configuration in which they completed their road test. Drivers who had their A/Z restricted for taking their road test using a truck with an automated transmission are unable to pull trailers with air brakes, which severely limits the options of a professional driver.
While the changes were endorsed by industry stakeholders, they were intended for entry-level drivers – not senior drivers, who in Ontario must complete a road test every year after the age of 65 to maintain their commercial licence.
Harold Johnson, a two-truck independent owner/operator with his own client base, says he’s been given the rigmarole by DriveTest, the third-party agency that conducts Ontario road tests, because both his trucks have automated transmissions.
He has four million accident-free miles under his belt, most of them accumulated while driving trucks with manual transmissions. However, he heard about the safety benefits of new automated gearboxes and decided to give them a try. Now, he’s having a difficult time renewing his Class A/Z licence, because DriveTest won’t allow him to keep his full A/Z if he takes the test with a tractor that has an automated transmission.
He figures it will cost him $500-$600 to rent a truck for the day and most places require a damage deposit of $2,000.
“This is discriminatory,” he told Truck News. “They’re not supposed to discriminate against me because of my age.”
Business is slow, he said, so he may just downgrade his licence rather than deal with the hassle. Johnson is not alone in referring to Ontario’s testing requirements for senior drivers as discriminatory. Brian Willoughby, an owner/operator who runs a gravel truck with pup trailer and pintle hook connection has a similar complaint.
He’s also facing a situation where he must find a more orthodox tractor-trailer configuration or downgrade his licence, since the combination he operates has no fifth wheel and a pup trailer that’s shorter than 45-ft.
He says taking his truck off the road for a day every year to take his road tests costs him about $1,000.To keep an unrestricted A/Z, he’ll have to also pay to rent a tractor-trailer.
“As far as I’m concerned, I can drive every bit as good as when I was 30,” said the senior driver with three million accident-free miles under his belt. “It’s a complete screw-up. Why put the most experienced drivers through the worst test? I’m not ready to retire, by any means. I’m still in good shape, health-wise. I’ve never been sick a day in my life. I can load the truck by hand – do whatever I need to do.”
Kim Richardson, president of respected driving school KRTS Transportation Specialists, was one of the stakeholders who urged the province to prevent the use of small vehicles and automatic transmissions for road tests. However, he said it was never intended for the same rules to apply to experienced drivers like Johnson and Willoughby.
“The qualifications (for senior drivers) are the same requirements as they give driving schools, which is wrong – totally wrong,” said Richardson. “Why should these knights of the road be treated like an entry-level driver? They’re not the same. These guys are pioneers of our industry, they helped build our industry and have managed to go millions upon millions of miles accident-free, and then we have a system that encourages them to give their licence up.”
Lobby groups representing various segments of the trucking industry are unanimous in their opposition to Ontario’s mandatory road test requirement for senior drivers.
Doug Switzer, vice-president, public affairs, with the Ontario Trucking Association, says the MTO continues to tell him that “the matter remains under consideration by the Minister’s office.”
When it comes to senior drivers being subjected to the same testing procedures as entry-level drivers, Switzer said “I would say everybody agrees what happened there was an unforeseen consequence.”
Adding salt to the wounds are recurring complaints that senior drivers are held to a higher standard than entry-level drivers when taking their road tests. Tom Niefer, manager of a southern Ontario distribution and warehousing company, said his senior drivers are routinely harassed when they show up to take their annual road tests, despite the fact they’re his safest drivers.
He is now demanding answers from the Ministry of Transportation, which as of press time had not responded to his letters. Niefer is particularly concerned about losing his most experienced drivers to early retirement. He speaks of one driver, in particular, who has 50 years driving experience without an accident and yet was recently failed by a DriveTest examiner.
“I have several older drivers working for me who repeatedly fail their driving tests, yet when I road test possible new hires it is seldom that a driver with a newly-minted licence can safely operate a truck,” he said. “There should be some method in place where they can determine everyone is being tested fairly and consistently, but it doesn’t appear there’s any mechanism in place to do that.”
It seems most of the complaints about the unfair treatment of senior drivers have come after the province outsourced road tests to the publicly-traded, for-profit, Europeanbased DriveTest in 2003.
“None of our guys had any problems prior to privatizing,” said Niefer, who went on to question DriveTest’s motives. “I operate a business the same as they do. The bottom line is the tell-all.”
“The more failures they get, the more money they make,” added Johnson. “They are a private enterprise. They’re in business to make money.”
“This is a publicly-traded company from Europe and they’re motivated by two things: profit and growth,” agreed Richardson.
The battle to change the testing requirements for senior drivers is ongoing on several fronts.
Lobby groups continue to urge the provincial government to revisit the requirements.
And solo crusaders such as Niefer vow to continue taking it upon themselves to demand answers from the Ministry.
The OTA’s Switzer said it’s unlikely the province will agree to a two-tiered road test – one for entry-level drivers and another for veterans. But Richardson has a suggestion he feels would solve the problem.
“Why should someone at 65 have to be re-tested?” he asked. “If you’re medically-fit and you have no demerit points, let’s do a written test and if you fail the written test, then you have a road test.”