Bud Kneller remembers a time when enforcement officers rarely wrote up charges for documentation and expired inspection stickers. But that’s changed.
MILTON, Ont. — The rules of engagement have changed when it comes to the charges Ontario drivers can face – as have the people who might lay the charges in the first place.
As of last week, Ontario Ministry of Transportation enforcement teams expanded their focus beyond speed limiters to include charges for outright speeding, Frontline Commercial Vehicle Solutions’ Alex Bugeya told fleet managers during a presentation hosted by the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada (PMTC).
And while speeding already accounts for half of the traffic-related collisions on the provinces’ roadways, there is a greater focus on whether a vehicle is traveling with the flow of traffic, he added. Enforcement teams are also paying added attention to speeding in construction zones and where posted speed limits change.
It isn’t the only way the enforcement has evolved.
Following too close
In the last five years, ministry officers have begun to enforce moving violations such as following too closely. And commercial drivers face a specific provision to be no closer than 60 meters from another vehicle at speeds of 60 km/h.
“From a real world perspective there can sometimes be a challenge. There is a recognition of that,” Bugeya said. The question is how egregious the tight following distance might be, such as whether a cruiser could fit between the two vehicles and just how long the truck has been tailgating someone.
Like it or not, if you run into a vehicle in front of you, you’re going to be at fault, he added. “It goes without saying trucks require a lot longer to stop.”
Points without fines
Many people are surprised to learn that Commercial Vehicle Operators Record (CVOR) points are still applied even if there are no fines, Bugeya observed. It doesn’t matter if an officer lowers the threshold for a speeding ticket. “There’s no such thing as a zero-point [speeding] ticket.”
Disobeying a sign
Charges for disobeying a sign that bans trucks can carry two CVOR points and two demerit points, Bugeya said. And when working as an enforcement officer, those often involved trucks that were parked in a signed area near a Tim Hortons.
“It’s not easy to park a truck. I totally get it,” he said of the restrictions. But that doesn’t mean drivers can escape the penalties.
While drivers in Manitoba will soon face suspended licences for distracted driving, Ontario has also tightened its own rules.
Police can charge drivers who are simply holding smartphones in their hands while driving, Bugeya said. It doesn’t matter if they’re interacting with it. “The general rule is you cannot drive any vehicle while holding a handheld communication device.”
The province is exempting some handheld communications devices from the rule until January 2021, but there are limits. The allowance for using a handheld two-way radio like a CB doesn’t apply when a commercial vehicle is used for a personal trip, he said as an example. “They could be charged with distracted driving at that time.”
Exempted two-way radios with a mic need to be tethered to a base that‘s anchored into the vehicle, too.
While penalties don’t match those in Manitoba, as of Jan. 1 Ontario will establish three-day licence suspensions and three demerit points after the first conviction for distracted driving.
Careless and inattentive
The wording used to charge someone with careless or inattentive driving tightened on Sept. 1 as well.
Drivers are now “deemed” to be careless if driving “in a manner that may limit his or her ability to prudently adjust to changing circumstances on the highway,” Bugeya said. Often used as a “catch-all” charge after a collision, this now carries a lower burden of proof as a result – along with the six demerit points, five CVOR points, and $400 fine.
His colleague Bud Kneller remembers a time when enforcement officers rarely wrote up charges for documentation and expired inspection stickers. But that’s changed. While charges for mechanical problems with brakes, wheels and lights dominate today’s totals, so do expired annual stickers.
It’s hard for an officer to ignore the related yellow sticker as soon as they climb up to a cab, he said.
Passing a scale
Kneller also stressed the need to treat the flashing lights on a roadside scale just like the flashing lights on a cruiser. When the lights are on, a truck has to pull over, even in heavy traffic. “You can let off the gas,” he told fleet managers in the audience.
Driving right by leads to a $390 fine and five CVOR points.
Those who think they can bypass the scales unseen are often kidding themselves as well. At the Putnam scale west of Toronto, for example, cameras show trucks squeezing off a nearby exit and then trying to get back on Highway 401. During a typical work week he would count one or two drivers trying that per day.
“I can see what you’re doing,” he said.
That’s when enforcement teams flash the lights on their cruisers.
This story includes a correction on the number of points assigned to sign-related infractions. Today’s Trucking regrets the error.