Auditor blasts NS truck enforcement system

HALIFAX — The highway vehicle inspection system in Nova Scotia is in need of a fix, says the province’s inspector general, who found that it’s too easy for truckers to avoid inspection.

In a report published this week, Jacques Lapointe also reveals that there are major inconsistencies between provincial truck weigh scales and Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal (TIR) enforcement staff lack oversight and inspection guidelines.

"We found TIR management did not sufficiently control safety, inspection and enforcement program activities to ensure key factors contributing to truck accidents were adequately addressed and program objectives were achieved," states the report." "Important information such as accident data and truck travel patterns were not routinely analyzed.

"Important controls, such as weigh scale hours of operation, and the number and focus of truck inspections, were not operating as intended and not adequately monitored."

Evidence cited by Lapointe suggests that 24/7 coverage of scale houses with unpredictable hours is an effective deterrent to truck weight and safety violations. But in Nova Scotia, the AG found that predictable patterns of operation allow some unsafe trucks to roam free.

During the AG’s test period between February and September 2008, the scales were closed a combined total of 61 days, not including holidays (21% during the week and 79% on weekends).  

"Truck operators with poor safety records could be encouraged to manipulate their schedules so they can drive past scale houses at times when they are generally closed."

The AG implored the TIR to use the traffic data it already collects electronically to determine truck traffic patterns and whether adjustments to scale house operating hours are necessary.

The staffing at the inspection stations also came under fire. "If only one officer is on duty, the extent of checks and inspections that an officer can perform are limited." And the AG found that most of the time, only one officer is on duty.

Enfield, at 36 percent, had the highest percentage of time with more than one working officer, compared to Amherst outbound with the lowest (2%).

Like a highly critical audit on Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation released last fall,  Nova Scotia’s AG reports major procedural and performance inconsistencies between various weigh scales.

For example, he analyzed written infractions (warnings and tickets) from April 2006 to December 2008. A total of 209 written infractions were issued by officers at Amherst inbound and 589 at Amherst outbound; compared to 1,508 at Canso Causeway; 1,417 at Enfield; and 1,028 at Kelly Lake.

"We acknowledge that the volume of truck traffic at each scale house and hours of operation would impact the number of written infractions issued but we believe the size of the discrepancies suggest a problem of inconsistent enforcement," states Lapointe, adding that there were also significant differences in the number of written infractions issued by individual officers.

In fact, one inspector hadn’t written a single ticket between April 2006 and December 2008, while another had issued 1,082 in the same two years.

Also troubling, according to the AG, is the frequency of the types of checks being performed across the board. We a truck is stopped, officers most often checked for a driver’s license, registration and insurance (67%), and vehicle weight (59%). However, only 20 percent were targeted "toward safety issues of the vehicle" such as tires and brake condition and just 15 percent of inspections targeted logbooks.

"We recognize a driver log book would not necessarily be a requirement for every truck stopped. However, we were concerned that a leading cause of truck accidents, such as driver fatigue, may not be adequately monitored."

Improvements are necessary in how the Division is managed, the AG concludes.

"Management control of program design, implementation and performance is critical to ensuring desired objectives are achieved. Management must ensure key safety risks are identified and assessed, and operational activities designed and implemented, to mitigate identified risks to an acceptable level.

"Meaningful and measurable performance measures to assess ongoing effectiveness of program activities should also be identified."

Premier Rodney MacDonald told local media that his government would review the AG’s report. he wouldn’t commit to any specific changes, though, adding that that despite the holes in the system Nova Scotia maintains one of the best transportation safety records in the country. 

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