OTA calls for leniency on cell phone ban, vehicle impounds

TORONTO — The Ontario Trucking Association made its opinions known to a pair a government committee holding hearings on two transportation bills.

Last wee, OTA vice-president of public affairs Doug Switzer, appeared before the Ontario Legislature’s Standing Committee on General Government which is holding public hearings on two new transportation safety bills.

Bill 118 is the government’s legislation banning the use of cell phones and all other electronic communications devices. Bill 126 is a more wide ranging set of amendments to the highway Traffic Act that would, among other things, allow the government to impound for seven days any vehicle being driven by a driver whose licence has been suspended by the province, including commercial vehicles.

Both of the Bills are primarily focused on dealing with safety issues generated by car drivers, but include trucks because of the sweeping nature of the laws.

OTA pointed out that while the intent of the Bills are good, there are specific issues related to commercial vehicles that need to be dealt with a bit differently than cars. As Switzer told the Committee, "trucks are not just big cars, all too often car drivers make the mistake of treating them like they were, legislators and policy makers should not make the same mistake."

With respect to banning cell phones, OTA has said it supports the bill in principal, but wants some exemptions made for commercial operators. According to the OTA, there was understanding and support from all parties for such exemptions and it appears that verbal commitments from MTO that the regulations will exempt mic-phones, satellite communications, etc, will be supported by the Committee.

With respect to the impoundment issue the OTA is seeking two amendments to the policy. First OTA is seeking the creation of a "due diligence" appeal process so a carrier who makes a reasonable effort to ensure that their drivers are properly licenced and who has the misfortune of having a driver get caught driving while suspended can try to have their truck released.

Second, OTA also recommended that rather than impounding the truck and load, that the truck be allowed to complete its delivery (obviously with a new driver) and that the carrier, rather than paying for impound fees, could simply surrender the plates within 12 hours and that the government would then "impound" the plates for seven days.

The OTA said there was some sympathy on the committee for these recommendations, but it is still far from clear that the government will agree to treat commercial vehicles differently than they do passenger vehicles with respect to this new impoundment law.

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