SPECIAL REPORT: AG blasts MTO truck enforcement; OBAC questions priorities

OTTAWA — Despite spending over $35 million on truck enforcement in 2007-2008, commercial vehicle inspections in Ontario have dropped by 34 percent since 2003, according to the 2008 Auditor General’s Report.

According to the report, only three out of every 1,000 commercial trucks were subject to a roadside inspection (one or two per officer a day), despite the MTO responding to a 1997 audit that officers must spend a minimum of 50 percent of their time doing road¬side inspections. "This performance target is no longer in place," states the report.

Additionally, over 20,000 operators have never applied for the required Commercial Vehicle Operator’s Registration (CVOR) certificate, the audit found. "The Ministry does not know the number of operators currently in business because there is no requirement for CVOR certificates to be periodically renewed," states the report, adding that tow truck operators are exempt from the requirement despite some questionable safety rates and equipment in that industry.

However, the auditor did attribute initiatives undertaken by the MTO over the past decade to a 20 percent drop in the collision rate involving commercial trucks.

The Owner-Operators Business Association of Canada (OBAC) used the revelations to attack the MTO for endorsing mandatory speed limiter enforcement rather than making "better use of under-staffed and over-tasked resources." (A six-month educational period for the speed limiter rule kicks off Jan. 1, 2009)

OBAC questions how the
MTO will enforce speed limiters, when, as the AG states,
it has trouble monitoring everything else.

OBAC Executive Director Joanne Ritchie said in a press release that the MTO is doing a poor job of maintaining high levels of road safety because of inadequate facilities, slipshod monitoring, and outdated enforcement systems and procedures.

"How can (Transport) Minister Bradley be prepared to divert obviously scarce enforcement resources to verifying speed-limiter settings when the Auditor General can point to more than 20,000 operators who were involved in collisions – and who knows how many more who haven’t hit the radar screen in some way – running around without CVORs, with no way for the Ministry to track them?" Ritchie asks rhetorically.

"This report demonstrates Ontario’s Commercial Vehicle Safety and Enforcement Program is a mess; the Ministry has a badly skewed set of priorities. Enforcement is down because they lack resources, yet they’re prepared to add an enforcement initiative with no proven safety benefit to already overburdened roadside inspectors Unbelievable."

The MTO’s response to the audit focused on its overall fatality and collision rates, which, as noted, have improved in the last 10 years. "The Ministry values the Auditor General’s observations and recommendations and is committed to taking action on these… The Ministry appreciates the Auditor General’s observations that the overall fatality rate in Ontario is the lowest it has ever been in the province."

Other findings included in the audit are:

The Ministry still does not include in its safety ratings U.S. data on collisions and inspection results as called for under the federal Motor Vehicle Transport Act. The report notes 18,000 such events.

Since only 15 truck inspection stations have impoundment facilities, unsafe vehicles identified in other locations were released after being repaired, without the required minimum 15-day penalty being imposed. Also, enforcement officers tend to avoid impoundments because of the paperwork involved.

Inspections are also not done consistently across districts. "For instance, the percentage of (out-of-service vehicles) varied from 15 percent to 35 percent by district, and the percentage of charges laid against drivers or operators based on inspections ranged from 8 percent to 30 percent among districts."

Inspectors could often not retrieve CVOR records from the database quickly enough to use them in deciding which vehicles warranted a roadside inspection. Nearly 10,000 inspection reports languished more than five months before being entered into the system.

The number of interventions against high-risk operators has been declining since 2003. Two-thirds of 740 operator facility audits were cancelled by Ministry staff.

"The Ministry needs to increase its efforts to obtain the information needed to identify the higher-risk operators and must strengthen its enforcement activities and its oversight of private-sector motor vehicle inspection stations if it is to ensure that unsafe commercial vehicles are kept off the road," the Auditor General stated in the report.

Adds Ritchie, in her own words: "Clearly, the Ministry has a lot of work to do in getting its enforcement house in order."


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