OTA wants MTO to shift gears with recent automatic testing rule

TORONTO — News that the Ontario Ministry of Transportation would allow older drivers to use automatic transmissions when re-testing was met with welcome arms, but industry stakeholders still want more.

After receiving a letter from the MTO stating that as of Nov. 1, 2009, senior drivers who are required to take a road test renewal after they turn 65 (and every year thereafter) can do so with an automatic transmission, the Private Truck Motor Council of Canada said it was a good move. But still wants to know where the MTO stands on reforming other aspects of the requirement to retest veteran drivers annually.

"When I got the letter," says Bruce Richards, PMTC president, "I called up (MTO) and said, ‘this is fine, this is good, but what are you doing about everything else?"

The Ontario Trucking Association agrees.

"Anything that makes it easier for truck drivers over 65 years of age to be re-tested, is welcome,” says OTA president David Bradley. “Although we are still hoping that MTO will adopt OTA’s proposal to alter the requirement for annual testing for drivers 65 years of age and older who have clean driving records."

But the OTA isn’t stopping there. When it comes to the use of automatic transmission testing, the association would like to see the exception extended beyond the re-testing of drivers 65 years of age or older.

“There is a growing recognition that automatics are becoming increasingly popular in the industry and if, as they continue to do so, the requirement that other drivers be tested only on manual transmissions will need to be reviewed," says Bradley.

According to Bradley, OTA is in discussions now with MTO on the best way to approach this and when.

In a survey of OTA carrier members conducted last month 62 percent of respondents said they did not feel that all new Class A drivers licence candidates should be tested on tractors with manual transmissions only and 71 percent of respondents said they had tractors with automatic transmissions in their fleet.

The reasons given for having tractors with automatic transmissions were: fuel economy (64 percent); older drivers (19 percent); new drivers (30 percent); and non-traditional drivers — e.g., women (30 percent).

According to Bradley, a number of carriers commented that drivers should be tested on the type of vehicle they have been trained on and that they are seeking to drive.

"What they told us is, if they are going to drive an automatic, then let them be tested on a tractor with an automatic transmission," he said. "Some carriers said that the type of transmission has nothing to do with a driver’s ability to operate a vehicle."

Nearly 90 percent of the respondents said that to their knowledge they have never had a driver who has only ever driven a tractor with an automatic transmission want to drive a tractor with a manual transmission. Of the 11 percent who said they have had a driver who has only ever driven a tractor with an automatic transmission want to drive a tractor with a manual transmission, all but one of the respondents said they gave the driver the training he/she needed and road tested them.

At the same time, Bradley says, "we recognize that the manual transmission is currently the dominant system; carriers told us they still want to be sure that drivers can switch easily between the two types of transmissions. Most training is still occurring on trucks equipped with manual transmissions."

"So, while there is still somewhat of a divided opinion on whether Class A licence candidates should be able to choose between being tested on an automatic or manual transmission vehicle today," said Bradley, "the vast majority felt that the situation in the marketplace is changing rapidly and that as automatics become increasingly prevalent this issue should be revisited, perhaps in a couple of years’ time."

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