OTTAWA — Longer B-trains, tridem-drive tractor recognition, and approval for full-length TrailerTails... we’ve got ’em all. These are significant changes on the Canadian trucking landscape, now part of the federal/provincial/territorial Memorandum of Understanding on Interprovincial Weights and Dimensions (MOU). That’s the agreement that sets national standards for the size-and-weight limits of heavy vehicles used in interprovincial transportation. It was initially established in 1988.
Last week the Task Force on Vehicle Weights and Dimensions Policy, comprising officials from Ottawa, the provinces, and territories, approved an amendment to the MOU that will increase the allowable size of aerodynamic devices on the rear of trucks and trailers from 0.9 to 1.52 meters. That will soon allow full-length TrailerTails from ATDynamics, for example, to operate within all provinces.
That’s big, but that’s not all. The Task Force also added the tridem-drive tractor-and-semi-trailer configuration as a new MOU category. And, bigger still, it agreed to increase the overall length limit for B-Train double-trailer combinations from 25 to 27.5 meters.
The industry has been begging for that last one going back several years because it accommodates the use of longer-wheelbase tractors, which are now necessary to fit emissions-reduction equipment and things like LNG tanks. It might also reduce driver fatigue and improve driver comfort by allowing larger sleeper berths. And the Task Force also figures it will improve safety in collisions with wildlife because the addition of moose bumpers will be feasible. More than a few trucks have been spec’d long anyway, in spite of the regulations, so they’ll now be legal.
The wish for a tridem-drive tractor category is even older. The Task Force acknowledged that research and development of appropriate size-and-weight limits for a tridem-drive tractor was originally launched in western Canada way back in the early 1990’s. Tridem-drive tractors are more than a little attractive to some sectors of the industry where heavy payloads are common and additional traction is needed. The configuration, after tons of research, is well understood , and the task force figures that all the testing and operational experience gained in western Canada will support national harmonization of standards for it.
The approval of longer TrailerTails, which many people thought took too long in coming, was also the subject of considerable research, as the Task Force decided that the effectiveness and safety of rear-mounted aerodynamic devices had to be better understood. Late last year Transport Canada revised the regulations such that provincial and territorial authorities allowed the 0.9-meter extension, but that didn’t help cross-border carriers quite enough. This new amendment will harmonize regulations in Canada with those in the United States and support the trucking industry in improving fuel efficiency and reducing emissions, said the Task Force.
The next step is for each province to issue permits or defer enforcement in the short term until legislation is changed to align with the federal allowance for full-length TrailerTail devices. Ontario actually began a deferred enforcement policy for the longer length in August, and it’s expected that the other provinces will follow more or less quickly with interim measures to do the same.
ATDynamics, makers of the TrailerTail, figures this will mean up to $3 billion in fuel savings over the next decade, claiming that fleets using its AeroTrailer Packages see immediate fuel savings of 9-12 percent. The company says it has worked with Canadian and cross-border fleet customers since 2007 to get the required vehicle-length exemptions.
The Task Force reports to the Council of Deputy Ministers Responsible for Transportation and Highway Safety. It was established in the 1988 MOU as the co-ordination mechanism for “identification, co-operative analysis, and development of recommendations for resolution of inconsistencies related to vehicle weight and dimension regulatory policies within Canada,” in the Council’s own words.
It has responsibility for “Pursuing greater national and/or regional uniformity of policies, regulations, and enforcement practices for heavy vehicle weight and dimension limits within Canada” and “Representing Canada in regulatory harmonization discussions being carried out under NAFTA.”
Under the terms of the MOU, provinces and territories will allow vehicles that comply with the weights and dimensions described in the MOU to travel on a designated system of highways in their jurisdictions. Each one retains the authority to regulate vehicle size and weight within its own borders, but the MOU spec is effectively a minimum standard.
It may or may not be coincidence, but a meeting in Washington, DC this past week was also rather significant in the relatively new effort to harmonize Canadian and American commercial and industrial regulations in general.
It’s a function of the Regulatory Co-operation Council (RCC), an initiative that was first launched almost three years ago by Prime Minister Harper and President Obama. The aim, of course, is to remove the sometimes absurd regulatory differences that exist between the two countries, making trade at least difficult, if not impossible. A few hundred people from both government and industry attended this meeting, and the Harper crowd says it’s already seen results.
Like the ‘Common Electronic Submission Gateway’ that allows industry to submit electronic applications to both Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for pharmaceutical and biological product approvals. And the sharing of test data used in creating vehicle safety standards. Why duplicate the work?
A recent Canadian Press article by Alexander Panetta noted a couple of commercial areas and products that could use some harmonization help. Like child car seats, which must meet different standards in the two countries for no good reason — there was simply no cross-border collaboration in the development of those standards.
And how about lipstick, you ask? Well, if it has sun-screen protection built in, it can still be sold as lipstick in the U.S., while in Canada that extra component means that it’s seen as a medical product. The result, says the CP article, is that in the U.S. getting it to market costs a paltry $700 compared to $700,000 here.
With respect to transportation, the RCC is quite active. Its Joint Action Plan focuses regulatory reform efforts on surface, marine, and general transportation issues, trucks and trucking included. During 2012, says the RCC, its various transportation-related working groups co-ordinated the completion of quite a few work plans. Among them: existing and new motor vehicle safety standards; dangerous goods transportation; intelligent transportation systems; and rail safety.
This kind of co-operation is more than a little welcome after decades of sometimes very obstructive trade policies, often at the state level.
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