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Why all road safety is ‘jeopardized’ by delay in new trucking law

Why all road safety is ‘jeopardized’ by delay in new trucking law
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A surprise decision by the province to delay tougher licensing requirements for new tractor-trailer drivers will “jeopardize road safety” for the motoring public who share streets and highways with big rigs, say shocked trucking industry insiders.

In a hastily-called 30-minute conference call to commercial trucking stakeholders Friday, the Ministry of Transportation announced a postponement — possibly up to a year — of a new regulation that would restrict drivers from operating tractor trailers equipped with manual gears if they have not passed a road test in such vehicles.

The new restricted Class A licence testing, which was to begin last Monday, was developed eight months ago to ensure those trained only on automatic trucks could not also operate rigs with the more demanding manual transmission.

“Why is the province taking this risk and jeopardizing road safety for all those who travel our highways?” said Kim Richardson, president of the , and who was on Friday’s call with the ministry and confirmed a year’s delay in testing was discussed.

Richardson, who also owns a truck training school, said it’s dangerous to have an unqualified driver using a complex manual transmission in a tractor-trailer, even if that trucker is licensed to use an automatic.

“I would compare it to someone getting their pilot’s licence in a Cessna then asking them to fly a jet,” he said, adding his group’s priority is to reverse the government’s decision to delay.

The ministry’s decision comes at a time when fatal commercial truck crashes are on the rise in the province — up about 40 per cent over the first six months of this year compared to 2020, according to the Ontario Provincial Police.

The plan to ensure that only those who pass a road test on a manual transmission truck can drive them is part of a larger set of safety reforms that began four years ago with the introduction of mandatory entry-level driver education requirements .

That program was launched after a series of Star investigations that found anyone could obtain a Class A licence — required to drive commercial trucks and tractor-trailers — without any formal training. This, in turn, had spurred the rise of dozens of teaching students just enough to pass the road test. Now the ministry requires all truck training schools to be provincially licensed.

The Star also found that would-be truckers were passing their road tests at the now-closed Woodbridge DriveTest centre without being taken on a 400-series expressway to meet ministry requirements to drive on roads with minimum speed limits of 80 km/h.

When asked why it was postponing the new manual transmission restriction and what evidence it was relying on to support the decision, the Ministry of Transportation told the Star that while it is committed to bringing in a new Class A framework, “we heard from the trucking industry that many need more time to comply with these regulations.”

“Our government listened and we will look at an extension for our truck training industry to comply with the new Class A rules,” said Natasha Tremblay, a spokesperson for Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney.

“The safety of Ontario’s roads is a top priority, and our goal is to ensure that all drivers, including those who operate heavy commercial vehicles, are equipped with the proper training.”

Transportation lawyer Richard Lande, who represents the Ontario Commercial Truck Training Association, the group of about 40 truck driving schools that asked the province to delay the new restriction, noted that not only is it difficult to buy a manual transmission truck these days, but also most trucks on the road today are automatic.

“(The schools) were not given a chance to really put their views down with regards to how it would be feasible or impactful on them during COVID to have the obligation of acquiring a manual truck unit,” he said.

Schools, however, were not ordered to change their programs or acquire new vehicles under the new regulation, according to a June ministry memo.

“Training providers continue to have the option to deliver training using their existing vehicles and are not required to alter their current training programs,” said Derek Lett, Acting director, safety program development branch, in the memorandum.

Last November, the ministry conducted an impact analysis of the new regulation that showed that while most driver training schools teach students on automatic transmissions exclusively, there are thousands of would-be truckers learning on manual gears. An audit of 94 training schools (from July 1, 2017 to Feb. 29, 2019) found that of approximately 24,900 students who completed driving courses during that time, 13,000 trained on automatics, 2,500 on manual and 9,400 trained on both, according to the MTO.

Navdeep Dhaliwal, a board member of the Ontario Commercial Truck Training Association, said his group is not opposed to the new requirement but stressed that schools need more time to prepare to teach students on manual transmission. He said that preparation includes training his staff on manual transmission, a process that can take at least one-and-a-half months per instructor.

He also said the pandemic made it difficult to acquire manual-transmission vehicles and that it can take as long as 11 months to get a new truck from his Volvo dealership.

“For example, I have 10 students and five of them are asking to go with a manual, and I don’t have a manual transmission ... what should I say to them?” said Dhaliwal, who runs Advance Truck Training Centre in Mississauga. “That way I’m losing my business.”

Dhaliwal added that his association was initially given only a two-month warning by the province that the restriction would be coming into effect.

“Hogwash,” says Mike Millian, president of , of any claims the industry wasn’t given enough notice.

Millian said restricted licence discussions have been ongoing with the province since 2015 and that the ministry’s proposed regulation was released in November — eight months ago.
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