Dial down rhetoric around Ontario licence endorsement: VanderZwaag

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Ontario has delayed plans to introduce a special licence endorsement for those who take road tests using an automated manual transmission. But one provincial training expert believes it’s time to tone down the “rhetoric” around the issue.

“Let’s not pretend that roads are going to be less safe by over-emphasizing the value of learning how to shift a manual transmission once in your life,” says Rolf VanderZwaag, president and CEO of Techni-Com.

Rolf Vanderzwaag (File photo: Peter Power)

“Stronger safety arguments may exist in relation to drivers who pass the road test in an empty truck, and the very next day are able to drive a fully loaded B-train through any city in the province.”

Other examples he cites includes drivers who are licensed without ever being exposed to the mountains, but immediately dispatched on a run from Toronto to Vancouver. “Or a driver who gets training and passes the road test in summer, who finally gets a job in winter, and is dispatched without ever having driven in snow.”

Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation had planned to introduce the restricted Class A licence endorsements on July 19, bringing the province’s truck licences in line with many other North American jurisdictions. That deadline was delayed as some schools complained they didn’t have the time to order trucks with manual transmissions or re-train staff.

The delay is expected to last as long as a year, leading to criticism by groups including the Truck Training Schools Association of Ontario.

VanderZwaag was a leading consultant in developing the national occupational standards for truck drivers, used to guide the mandatory entry-level training regime in the province.

Early training with a manual transmission is also not enough to ensure drivers are ready to shift gears later in a career, he says.

“Learning to drive a manual transmission requires muscle memory and coordination. This is a skill that can be lost without regular practice,” VanderZwaag says.

“A person who learned to drive a nine-speed transmission well enough to pass the road test five years ago, but drove only automated transmissions since then, cannot be deemed to be qualified to drive an 18-speed transmission through the mountains — regardless of what it says on that person’s driver’s licence.”

The in-cab driving hours defined under mandatory entry-level training may not include enough time for every student to become proficient with a fully manual transmission, he adds.

Ontario was the first province to mandate entry-level training standards before taking a road test for a Class A licence. That includes a minimum of 103.5 hours of training, including 32 hours of on-road and 18 hours of off-road training behind the wheel.

The minimum training still requires “significant on-the-job learning and skill development” for the rookie truck drivers once they’re licensed, he says.

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John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, TruckTech, Transport Routier, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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  • Fact: You can easily lose control with an “automatic” if you don’t know how to shift it going down hill. Those who are familiar with manual transmissions tend to downshift. Those who only drove automatics aren’t always aware that strictly using the transmission’s logic can sometimes lead to catastrophe. I’ve once worked at one company that strongly discouraged the use of the manual mode until they noticed excessive brake wear.

    Those automatics (sorry, automated manuals) don’t preclude common sense judgement when selecting proper gears.

  • Hello, I am certain you guys watch Heavy Rescue 401.Anyhow, on a show that’s aired a few times this year the owner of Preferred Towing in Sarnia had to tow a stranded B train in a rural farming area. This B train was carrying diesel or gasoline, the truck didn’t seem to be stuck but the road was quite slippery. Well go figure, the driver of the B train did not know how to back up! The tow truck owner Gary had to back up the truck himself. How do these people get a licence to drive a truck? They didn’t show the driver for obvious reasons -probably a new driver- how can this happen? And you are worried about guys driving manual shift.

  • I am a owner operator with 40 years of experience. I have worked in the Alberta oilfield hauling crude. I have run almost all of North America. I feel that one of the worst things that has happened to trucking is the automatic transmission. I have found that so many of the newer drivers are driving these trucks like it is their car or pickup truck. That is to say they simply mash the throttle to the floor. The are driving too fast in the parking lots, because they do not have to think about what gear they are in. They are no longer in tune with the truck. I have almost been hit numerous times walking in the truck stop parking lots by drivers moving in high range.

  • This is a fact. Just because you take a course on how to drive, and more important operate a tractor trailer or any other heavy truck, doesn’t give you the honor of saying that you are a tractor trailer driver. I took a course in the 1990s and still was not convinced that I was totally qualified to do the job, in all the said situations. Please keep pushing for better control, it’s needed. There are some scary operators out there who think they are all that and then some. This is why so many people get killed or lose control of their trucks. Thanks.

  • I agree that testing should be done with a loaded truck and manual transmission in the beginning as well as a mock up simulation for Z endorsement and circle check for retesting when license renewal comes up. But on the flip side, all car drivers should have to redrive for their renewal. There’s a reason Canada’s worst drivers show was so popular for so many years because so many on the roads should never have looked at a licence, let alone got one.

  • Learning to drive a manual transmission requires muscle memory and coordination. This is a skill that can be lost without regular practice,” VanderZwaag says.

    Absolutely at percent, I do not VanderZwaag’s opinion. Muscle memory is memory period.

  • My concern is the lack of driving schools that are actually qualified to train. Many fly by night schools teach the very basic requirements to pass your road test. The industry needs to adopt an apprenticeship like any other trade. We also need to fix the Ministry of transportation offices. I had to renew my licence last year which requires me to write the written test. I go in hand over all my needed information, licence and my letter from the Ministry. I wrote the test and passed. But while waiting to get my new temporary licence a gentleman walks in with his abstract , and told the lady he needed to write his test. He had no photo identification or licence in hand. But the lady proceeded to let him write the test. My question is how did she even know that was the same person on that abstract. Time for all forms of government to get the problem solved. You want safe roads lets also see radar on all our major highways and see the police patroling . Enforcing all the laws that pertain to road safety from motorcycles, cars and big trucks. This industry needs a major revamping and quick. It’s going to hell in a hand basket.

    • Just remember the ministry of transport’s actual road test IS the minimum requirement for obtaining a commercial license

  • My comment is that it should be okay to take an automatic on your road test. 80% of our tractors these days are automatic and if a company would like to hire you with manual transmission, then maybe they should take the time to train you. also it would be easier for the ministry to get drivers on the road quicker. we really need drivers, there is a big shortage, but again who am I to make that decision?

    • Those who choose automatics over standards are steering wheel holders same as car drivers. Way to easy to hire some moron to drive automatic than train for standard. At least one has to think and act with a standard, but eith an automatic morons forget what they’re driving or what’s behind them

  • Many ppl want to get their truck license however, many are only looking at the dollar end. Every road is different as well as every gear. Getting your training as said, an empty truck. Get someone on the road full of cargo and a pup to boot, Wow! Look out other drivers.
    If they want their license, put them through every possible scenario! It only stands to reason. Yes they will learn along the way! Also walk around, making sure their load is tied down. They won’t be driving a Toy!

  • As an employer, its absurd to find new drivers are unable to shift. We are local, half our fleet is auto and half manual. We only interview, road test and hire those with manual experience as these drivers prove to generally have higher skill and confidence behind the wheel. What has this world come to, dumbing down our future drivers. Shame on big trucking for fast-tracking drivers behind the wheel lacking the basic fundamentals of trucking.

  • Amazing how we always hear what the so-called experts have to say but never what truck drivers have to say!

  • Hello John, I have over 40 years experience as a truck driver in Europe and North America. I train Truck drivers in Ontario in a very well respected training school. With that out of the way I very much doubt you will publish my remarks and concerns.
    When M.E.L.T. was first talked about I whole heartedly supported it, its goals were to clean up the industry leaving only approved schools with an approved curriculum. I take great pride in my trade (yes trade! a skilled professional, same as an electrician or plumber, welder ) but my trade has been watered down and watered down until now there is very little recognition for truck driving as a skilled trade. I am not talking about wages or the insane hours that a driver has to work to make a living ( O many companies talk about life work balance nice marketing for most, lets have a politician work with a driver for 2 weeks and see what they say then)
    Here are some uncomfortable realities of Ontario truck training .
    1. Fatal truck collisions are up 40 per cent in Ontario
    From January 1 to June 30, 2021, the OPP responded to 32 fatal crashes that involved a CMV, compared to 23 such collisions at this time last year. (during Covid lock down)
    2. To be a Private Career College before melt you had to train for 200 hrs that was reduced by MELT to 103.5
    3. Your ability to speak English is tested before attending a school but not your ability to drive !! some students would struggle to pass a G2 test and do not understand basic rules of the road.
    4. The AZ driving test has typically only 20 mins at most driving time, a 10 minute backing test where they can make 30 errors! and achieve a pass (with an empty truck ) they are not even required to complete a pre trip on the test. They are tested on their knowledge of schedule one.
    5. Most schools can only train a student to pass the test make no mistake they can not train to prepare a student for life as a truck driver.
    6. To teach students to drive standard as part of MELT, well there is just no time in the program and our limited time as trainers could be much better spent. If a company requires standard then as with any other type of equipment they should train there employees on it, As done with Dangerous Goods.
    Less savory realities
    When I have students arrive for training and they have already completed Z endorsement training and have passed it. Many of them remember nothing or very little when I ask about there training I am told ” O I got it in Brampton or Mississauga you just pay and they give it to you with little or no testing ”
    I am told some schools have many students in a cab at once and this is counted as driving time for all of them. Some are told not to bother doing a pre trip before driving as its not needed, The list goes on and on the cowboy schools are alive and well and pushing through very poorly trained students. Where are the inspectors and the enforcement to close these schools? ( here’s a tip do not tell them you are coming weeks before, just turn up or enroll a “student onto there courses “)
    This is just the tip of the iceberg Ontario has said it wants the best training and the safest roads. Well yes we do have the safest roads in North America that’s true and I am sure many politicians will be happy to tell you that. If we really want to be safe much more training is needed not only for truck driver but cars drivers too (2/3 drivers have never had any training ) please can somebody in Ottawa grasp this thorn and show some leadership make a real difference and save lives. If you need help ask! the people training.

  • Great article that sums up a lot. But the government will not go for change they make money off the stupid stuff drivers do.

  • Believe me… you can train all you want in a driving school or even your whole life it will never be good enough for what is to come! I’ve been driving for 14 years and driving coast to coast to coast it’s different every day, I’m still learning everyday! From roads to loads and even climate change every situation is different and the best training you can do is to train your mind and be ready for anything new.

  • My biggest complaint when I was driving before my accident was there were a lot of foreign/new immigrant drivers on the highway. And as your article stated has never driven in different seasons etc. I looked into being a driver trainer for four wheelers and was told back then you are require to have five years of driver’s experience. Canada is a very big country and a very diverse population with new immigrants coming in each and every year. I myself am an immigrant please understand where I’m coming from. If I’m coming from a country with rules or regulation it takes me more than 5 years to get rid of my bad habits before I can teach. Hence therein lies the problem. I’ve caught driver instructor training four-wheel drivers how to drive while the instructor is on a cell phone. That should never happen. We need drivers to train that’s been in Canada for more than 5 years this way and I hopes their bad habits are broken. It’s always scary driving 401 going through Toronto when you have a lot of dumb trucks with trailers attached going full bore with no room for error. That’s dangerous. We need to have better highways especially the two lanes heading to Windsor from London as well as from Sarnia to London. Three to four lanes instead of two. I’ve all still noticed recently when I’m in the Onroute in Ontario that there’s three to four drivers coming out of a tractor trailer. Better rules, better regulations, better driver instructors to make a road safer.

    • I used to drive long haul. I’ve driven all seasons, all types of weather as well as all types of roads and mountainous conditions. Driven every state in the Union as well as in every province west of New Brunswick. Until I was t-boned by a minivan which brought my career close screeching halt September 13th of 1999.

  • CDL should be a trade qualification. You’re much more than a ‘driver’ behind the wheel.
    Also, class B and C licences should be stand-alone. Right now they also licence you to drive class D vehicles.
    Finally, if you REALLY want to improve safety, drivers should be paid by the hour, for all hours worked. The present system for those paid by the mile is unreasonable. Overtime must be paid as well.

  • We were all rookies at one time. Gradual driving from a tandem then to tractor trailer was how we learned in the past. I’m a standard transmission guy because I have control of the vehicle and not relying on a computer. Automatics are for truck drivers who rely on technology to get them from point A to point B. If you aren’t aware you are not in control

  • Look at Ontario Z endorsement. Why is that part of licensing? When I went back to school to get my A/C Z endorsement the trainer didn’t even know the brake chamber size or stroke stating you will never adjust them. Any company worth it salt tests and puts you with a trainer for four to five weeks so you are not jumping into B trains right out of the gate. Regulate trucking firms not some poor sap trying to make a living.

  • They need to build manual shift trucks again. 1. The automatic trucks tend to speed inner city. 2. They easily jack-knife on wet and snow covered roadways. 3. They easily slam into loading docks, hooking trailers and stationary objects. 4. Their roll back is impossible to control on hills, mountains and international bridges. 5. I find myself having more control of a manual shift truck than an automatic truck.

  • As a driver and owner operator, with 36 years, using super 10 transmission, 13 speed transmission and 18 gears and driving approx. 5.5 million miles, I see steering wheel holders using auto transmissions, as useless winter drivers that rely on a machine, on technology rather than skill in anything other than regional city work. When new drivers have no feelings for the road, or ability to override computers, to know what a human should do rather than a pre programed anti skid, or know the feelings of when to brake, a muscle memory available to manual transmission and the skill to recognize danger is something auto transmission drivers will never know or realize.
    Definitely restrict them from mountains, winter roads, U.S. operations that require the ability to operate in extreme conditions.
    These companies in Canada only care about profits, no name, but any driver/owner op knows who these companies are, so does the MTO.
    It’s time for a change, let’s get this right the first time.

  • All good points about the other issues, but I’m currently training a new driver to shift an 18-speed transmission who got his license with an automatic and he forgets most of his other skills while trying to shift. The minimum training has never been enough and never will be because of time and cost constraints. Until the industry moves completely to automatic transmissions, putting out drivers who don’t have manual transmission training limits them and those hoping to hire them.

  • Why do these trucks bypass the inspection station and drive on regional roads and cause headaches for everyone else? I know time is money and unsafe trucks are a big problem too. Thanks

  • And this is one of the many reasons why he can no longer find what is truly a professional truck driver.
    When I say that in the industry the driver is the one who is treated like crap pushed beyond limitations, badgered and subsequently fined for infractions.
    Not given proper rest with proper facilities because nobody wants to have a truck driver in their neighborhood, get what groceries building materials and things that use everyday in their life brought to them. God forbid you pay these hard-working souls a living wage and a decent work environment.
    This is just another gift from deregulation. Pass the cost down on to the driver but the corporations make the big bucks.
    I have millions of miles on my butt behind the wheel and I gave it up, and I don’t think anybody should do it because comparable to slavery.
    I think about it, it doesn’t matter if you eat it sleep or sit on it or use it to earn your living, a truck brought it to you.

  • New drivers should expect all that could be expected in this safety sensitive career. Getting the basics is something the schools need to provide. Manual transmissions are still around and new drivers may not have an option for career choice. Trucking companies need to provide any job special driver training. Back in the day if you passed the MTO Road Test with a manual transmission you possess the ability to drive any transmission.
    Case and point, I learned of two two co-drivers who if fact were new team hires and had an accident driving from Ontario to BC. He was not accustomed to long haul driving and fell asleep at the wheel. Unfortunately his team driver was sleeping in the bunk and was killed in the accident. First responders were unaware it was a team operation until the driver in the hospital inquired about the status of his team driver. She was discovered later in the wreckage. He survived but has to live with this for the rest of his life — as well as the trucking company.
    The problem lies with some trucking companies hiring anyone with a pulse. Of course they are required to have completed the MELT Program at an approved training facility. There is a shortage of drivers however the industry hasn’t had the best track record. The media is not helping on the topic either. That is one area that needs to change before there are any gains in driver numbers.
    There are no schools that train drivers to operate B-Trains or long haul operation. The responsibility should be directed towards these companies that just hand the driver a set of keys. There are also some drivers that need to have more of a conscience whether to accept that job without training. That door needs to swing both ways. Until this industry realizes the source of the problems on our highways we will continue to have conversations.

  • I’m so impressed and supportive of this necessary past licensing steps. In life some things need to stay in place for accuracy, safety and utility of the ‘brain’.

  • It’s time for employers who are paying employees to have a say. If they have trained people at their expense and are okay with their progress, then are taking responsibility for them in the way of being insured. Is it responsible for government putting their employees in a truck and testing an eligible driver with no seat experience?

  • Manpower training course. D license (before Z endorsement) 1981. Polson Street. Toronto. Learnt on a 5 speed split shift. 18 is a 9 with a split shift. Our snowplows these days are automatic. My personal favorite is 15 over.

  • How about we address the dark horse in the room. The fact all these drivers feel pushed to drive as fast as they can to make up time that is lost by companies , shippers and receivers. Control begins at the beginning when they said “Your hired”. The laws should be You must prove you can drive an automatic and a Standard transmission. It might cost more and delay the driver being certified but it could save lives.

  • This is just to make everyone reading your articol and find out about you !!
    Those days there is no way to buy a truck with manual transmission
    The future is for electrical and more advance ease to drive trucks.
    I love to drive manual transmission but was no way to get such a new truck !
    John !!! find better subjects!

    The reasons you come from, doesn’t stay in reality !!
    Could be better but not in reality !
    Nobody will give you a truck to cross Rocky !! How did you come with that!??
    Trucks now are very performing and well equipped for all different roads ! You should use one !

    Make articles about quality of the roads , about pollution when we get that long, very long road closure with nobody nows way !!
    Ask we don’t have yet synchronized traffic lights at this time off the century !!!!
    All of this are a lot of pollution !!
    Looks like nobody cares about this !!

    John do better then that !!!
    Find real subjects !!

    Mitch S.

  • We have a small ‘split’ fleet. Five auto shift and five standards. Depending on the brand of ‘auto shift’ they are all a bit different in their programming. Two of our senior drivers are on the ‘autoshifts’ and they both relate stories to me about the lack of ‘feeling’ they have on the ‘autos’ – going into a corner faster than they would with a standard, because of the program and the lack of ‘feeling’ because there is no real downshift they are doing. They force themselves to look at the speedo to remind them how fast they are going – on a standard the physical task forces and instills a speed control. As a trainer I see the differences in these auto shifts and how they react as dangerous and confusing. For a person with mechanical knowledge, I can compensate for the ‘electronic’ faults. For a person with no mechanical skill, there is no compensation because they don’t understand how the machine functions. The Volvo I shift will automatically upshift when the engine brake reaches a set RPM. (1800?) On a downhill grade the iShift will then jump 2 or 3 gears – not what you really want when trying to control a downhill situation. This can throw an experienced driver for a loop, while the inexperienced driver can be in trouble with no idea what to do. The Daimler ‘Autoshift’ has an ‘Eco’ mode, which throws the transmission into ‘neutral’ and coast when it thinks it can ‘save fuel’ – just what you don’t want when in heavy traffic or steep rolling hills, when you may need to control speed. We have programmed this feature out. Even in city driving this ‘Eco’ mode was scary. Now put that unit in the hands of unskilled drivers and you get the results you are seeing in Ontario in the past year. The mechanical skill is relative for a safe operation. No different than a drill press or a skill saw – you have to understand how it works and where the danger lies in order to survive in one piece. Younger companies and managers tend to rely on ‘tech’ advances to fix all problems and may not have the complete understanding of the global aspect of the tasks. Quite often it starts with ” the salesman said …” and that is how things get started.