A surprise decision by the province to delay stricter licensing requirements for new truck drivers “will jeopardize road safety” for the motoring public who share streets and highways with large trucks, say shocked trucking industry insiders.
In a hastily convened 30-minute conference call Friday to parties interested in commercial truck transport, the Transport Ministry 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 haven’t already. passed a test drive on those vehicles.
The new restricted Class A license test, which was due to begin last Monday, was developed eight months ago to ensure that those trained only in automatic trucks could not also operate rigs with the most demanding manual transmission.
“Why is the province taking this risk and endangering the road safety of all who travel on our roads?” said Kim Richardson, president of the Ontario Truck Training Association, and who was on Friday’s call was discussed with the ministry and confirmed a one-year delay in testing.
Richardson, who also owns a truck training school, said it is dangerous to have an unskilled driver use a complex manual transmission in a trailer truck, even if that trucker is licensed to use an automatic.
“I would compare it to someone who gets his pilot’s license in a Cessna and then asks him to fly a jet,” he said, adding that his group’s priority is to reverse the government’s decision to delay it.
The ministry’s decision comes at a time when fatal commercial truck accidents are on the rise in the province, up 40% during 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 test drive in a manual transmission truck can drive them is part of a broader set of safety reforms that began four years ago with the introduction of mandatory driver education requirements for beginners.
That program was launched after a series of Star investigations that found that anyone could obtain a Class A license, required to drive commercial trucks and tractors, without any formal training. This, in turn, had spurred the emergence of dozens of cheap and unregulated truck training schools across the GTA that taught students enough to pass the road test. Now the ministry requires that all truck training schools have a provincial license.
The Star also found that aspiring truckers passed their road tests at the now-closed Woodbridge DriveTest without being taken onto a 400-series highway to meet the ministry’s requirements for driving on roads with minimum speed limits of 50 miles. / h.
When asked why it was postponing the new manual transmission restriction and what evidence it relied on to support the decision, the Transportation Ministry told the Star that while it is committed to incorporating a new Class A frame, “we listened to the Many industry trucks need more time to comply with these regulations. “
“Our government listened and we will seek an extension to our trucking training industry to comply with the new Class A rules,” said Natasha Tremblay, spokeswoman 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 attorney Richard Lande, who represents the Commercial Truck Training Association of Ontario, the group of about 40 truck driving schools that asked the province to delay the new restriction, noted that it’s not just difficult to buy a truck. manual transmission these days, but also most of the trucks on the road today are automatic.
“(The schools) did not have the opportunity to put aside their views regarding how it would be feasible or impactful for them during COVID to have an obligation to purchase a manual truck unit,” he said.
However, the schools were not ordered to change their programs or purchase new vehicles under the new regulation, according to a June ministry memorandum.
“Training providers continue to have the option of providing training using their existing vehicles and are not required to modify their current training programs,” Derek Lett, acting director of the safety program development branch, said in the memo.
Last November, the ministry conducted an impact analysis of the new regulation that showed that while most driver training schools teach students about automatic transmissions exclusively, there are thousands of aspiring truck drivers who are learning about gears. manuals. An audit of 94 training schools (July 1, 2017 to February 29, 2019) found that of approximately 24,900 students who completed driving courses during that time, 13,000 trained in automatics, 2,500 in manuals, and 9,400 trained in both, according to the MTO.
Navdeep Dhaliwal, a board member for 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 about manual transmission. He said preparation includes training his staff in manual transmission, a process that can take at least a month and a half per instructor.
He also said that the pandemic made it difficult to purchase manual transmission vehicles and that it can take up to 11 months to get a new truck from your Volvo dealer.
“For example, I have 10 students and five of them ask to go with a manual, and I don’t have a manual transmission … what should I tell them?” said Dhaliwal, who runs the Advanced Truck Training Center in Mississauga. “That way I am losing my business.”
Dhaliwal added that initially the province gave its association only a two-month warning that the restriction would take effect.
“Nonsense,” says Mike Millian, president of Private Motor Trucks Council of CanadaNot enough notice was given of any claim to the industry.
Millian said that discussions on restricted licenses have been ongoing with the province since 2015 and that the ministry proposed regulation It was released in November, eight months ago.
“So for a group to say that they didn’t get any warning … and that they need time to buy manual transmissions and teach their trainers how to train with those manual transmissions, is silly,” said Millian, whose group Members include companies with private fleets such as Coca-Cola Canada, Tim Hortons and Home Hardware, adding that the PMTC is “100 percent against” any delay in implementing the new restriction.
He said operating a manual transmission truck cannot be compared to operating manual shifts in a car, noting that manual trucks can have up to 18 forward gears, in addition to reverse gears, which should be used to help reduce gear. vehicle speed.
“If you’re on heavy hills and you don’t use that transmission to help you slow down, the brakes will eventually overheat and not work properly,” he said.
Millian also said that drivers can’t learn to operate manual gears on the go if they haven’t been trained.
“If you’ve never operated one before, you will panic.”
Lisa Arseneau, an insurance broker for the trucking industry, painted a scenario in which a driver who only operates an automatic transmission has a platform that breaks down and they are forced to rent a manual truck for delivery in weather.
“It is a disaster. It’s a perfect storm to have no safety or compliance on the road, ”he said. “That is why we began to pressure the MTO to establish the restrictive class. Because now, as insurers, we know that exposure to risk is there. “
“The government is scared,” he said. “I would be more afraid of the deaths that we are going to see.”