Report sparks truck safety debate

A recent report from Ontario’s auditor general has sparked a debate on how to improve road safety, with some in the trucking industry casting doubts on the effectiveness of deploying more enforcement inspectors.

Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk

In her annual report, Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk said the Ministry of Transportation had missed the opportunity to remove thousands of unsafe commercial vehicles and drivers because there were not enough officers to inspect them.

Her audit found that the number of inspections decreased by 22%, from over 113,000 in 2014 to fewer than 89,000 in 2018, because the ministry was unable to fill vacancies.

While the Ontario Public Service Employees Union is demanding the government significantly increase the number of vehicle safety inspectors, others argue that inspections alone won’t solve the safety crisis.

Raj Walia, president of the safety and compliance management company Trux Solutions, believes the inspection regime is just one of several control mechanisms.

Raj Walia

“Enforcement inspections are after the fact, and should not be the only means for enhancing safety on the road,” he told Road Today.

In addition to inspections, Walia said the authorities should consider the following steps:

  • Appointment of third-party auditors to ensure proactive compliance;
  • Mandating automated systems such as electronic logs and dash cams that capture harsh events to ensure an appropriate proactive environment;
  • Enhancing AMPs (administrative monetary penalties) relevant to compliance deviations to bring about a stricter regime with heavier monetary penalties for key failures; and
  • implementing a mandated training regime to be conducted by certified practitioners for enhancing awareness.
Amarjit Bajwa

Amarjit Bajwa of Best Care Transport also disagrees with the auditor general on inspections.

He said current MTO inspections are comparable to the safety checks done by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“Focus should be more on educating drivers for safety, and more mandatory preventive measures should be taken to avoid accidents,” he said.

Overall, he said, the ministry is doing “a good number of inspections.”

On its part, the Ontario Trucking Association said the ministry has what it called “a holistic plan” to tackle truck safety that will effectively address the concerns outlined in the report.

“OTA looks forward to continuing to work with MTO on developing and executing this plan as quickly as possible over the next several months,” said president Stephen Laskowski.

Gurinder Bains

Gurinder Singh Bains, who works for a major global retailer as driver trainer, said the auditor general has published her report in good faith.

“First of all, a shortage of MTO officers leads to less inspections. With less inspections, safety is on the hook,” said Bains.

He said the ministry should hire more inspectors, and also try to increase the number of inspections of commercial vehicles.

But getting qualified inspectors on a timely fashion is not an easy task, according to OPSEU president Warren (Smokey) Thomas.

“The Ministry of Transportation continues to see hiring pools shrink substantially because of the very difficult, even hazardous, working conditions,” warned Thomas.

“If this government is serious about making our roads safe, they’ll have to make the job more desirable so we can attract the quality and quantity of officers that Ontario’s drivers need and expect.”

One chronic problem the ministry has not addressed is hiring and retention, the union said.

“Being an enforcement officer and auditor comes with threats, violence and exposure to extreme weather, as well as coming into contact with chemicals and biohazards.”

It said officers work long, irregular hours and must maintain a professional manner when dealing with uncooperative businesses.

In its response, the ministry said it appreciates the work of the auditor general and welcomes the recommendations on how to improve the Commercial Vehicle Safety and Enforcement Program.

“We agree with all the recommendations and are committed to implementing them as quickly as possible and will report back regularly on our progress,” it said.

By Abdul Latheef