Road safety? Clement says Ontario is on target

TORONTO — Such little public action was taken by the Ontario government on its much-trumpeted Target ’97 initiatives this year it made you wonder whether the truck-safety plan was filed along side the 1997 wall calendars somewhere deep within the transport ministry’s offices.

But yesterday, Ontario Transportation Minister Tony Clement committed to an implementation strategy of several road-safety programs before members of the Ontario Trucking Association at the group’s annual convention in Toronto.

Clement provided a wide-ranging report on the status of several projects, many of them key planks put forth by Target ’97, the government-industry task force which more than two years ago issued 79 recommendations to improve truck safety in the province:

> The much-anticipated motor carrier safety rating system will be implemented in 1999 through a three-phase approach. In January, an education initiative will begin, to teach carriers about the new system. Phase two will start in May, when safety ratings will be assigned to those carriers deemed “unsatisfactory.” The final phase will occur in August, when the ratings of “satisfactory” or “conditional” will be issued. The entire carrier safety rating system will have been fully implemented by the end of next year.

The minister also referenced a rating category of “excellent,” but did not go into details on how this new, additional rating level would be earned.

> The province’s Commercial Vehicle Operator Registration (CVOR) system is being revamped, with an improved, fully automated process planned for introduction in August 1999. The new system will be expanded to include factors such as kilometres driven, and will focus on “safety-only” incidents, with non-safety offences and no-fault collisions given a “zero value.”

Other changes to date include a requirement that CVOR holders report any changes in fleet size to the Registrar of Motor Vehicles, and expanded powers for the Registrar to revoke operating privileges for previously sanctioned carriers, so unsafe operators cannot just re-register their trucks under another name.

> The contentious pan-Canadian Memorandum of Understanding on Vehicle Weights and Dimensions, amended by the Council of Ministers in June 1997, is said to be “in the final stages of approval.”

> Carrier complaints about the inconvenience of having to obtain oversize- or overweight-vehicle permits from both the province and local municipal authorities were acknowledged, and Clement said over the next few months the MTO will address possible “one-window” solutions.

> The OTA’s involvement in Target ’97, which has evolved into the “Ontario Road Safety Plan,” was lauded, including developing and delivering training and certification programs for air-brake adjustment and wheel installation (which has certified more than 25,000 persons so far).

> A revised, tougher written test for class-A commercial driving licences should be ready this winter, shortly followed by a revamped, more demanding road test.

> On hours-of-service regulations, Clement said Ontario does not intend to unilaterally change the standards, but is working with the federal government and other jurisdictions to bring forward recommendations for changes to these rules by the spring of 1999 that will reflect recent detailed, scientific findings on the causes of driver fatigue.

> Regarding maintenance and inspection standards, the province has hired 80 additional enforcement officers and implemented around-the-clock operations at 10 strategically located truck inspection stations. Since an on-the-spot truck-impoundment program began on Feb. 2, 1998, for vehicles with critical maintenance defects, nearly 200 commercial vehicles have found themselves in what’s been dubbed “truck jail.”

> The province continues to improve the state of its highways, investing a record $667 million during the next fiscal year for upgrades, including work on the Hwy. 416 link from Ottawa southwards to Hwy 401.

Clement noted with satisfaction that fatal accidents involving trucks in Ontario dropped by 25% between 1988 and 1996, even though the number of trucks registered in the province had increased by 5% during that period. He also noted that Ontario’s out-of-service rate of 29% in the annual CVSA Roadcheck inspection blitz for 1998 represented the fourth year in a row of improved results for the province.

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