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Opinion: Ontario auditor general gave trucking regulators a failing grade

Posted: December 9, 2019 by John G. Smith

The impending report by a provincial auditor general must fill bureaucrats and politicians with dread. It’s something akin to being called into the principal’s office, or being told that a camera crew from 60 Minutes is in the lobby.

This year, Ontario’s oversight of commercial vehicles was in the crosshairs.

Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk has delivered a scathing rebuke of the province’s inspection and licensing procedures – and in the process called into question the Ontario trucking industry’s own performance.

Ontario may perform favorably when comparing the number of fatalities and injuries per registered motor vehicle, but the commercial vehicles among them recorded fatality and injury rates higher than those seen elsewhere in Canada or the U.S., the report concludes. Such vehicles were involved in 182,000 collisions, 44,000 injuries and 1,180 fatalities between 2008 and 2017.

In the midst of it all, the number of truck inspections has dropped. There were more than 113,000 commercial vehicle inspections in 2014, and fewer than 89,000 in 2018. Some of the drop was linked to unfilled job openings, but the 230 officers on the job failed to meet annual “productivity targets” when it came to the number of completed inspections. (I guess we can’t call them quotas.)

To compound matters, the inspections were inconsistent. Yes, officers are all trained in the same Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) standards that have been embraced across North America. But one district laid charges in more than 30% of its inspections; another laid charges 8% of the time, despite recording violations in more than 40% of the trucks. It’s hard to believe that one region would be that much more troublesome than the next.

Not surprising to anyone in trucking, local haulers were the least likely to be exposed to a roadside inspection at all, even though 68% of the collisions involving Ontario trucks occur on municipal roads.

Granted, there is not always a direct link between a roadside violation and a fleet’s commitment to safety. It would be difficult to find any operation with a truly spotless Commercial Vehicle Operators Registration (CVOR) score. Mechanical systems break down when equipment is being used. But a well-designed regulatory model would shine the brightest light on those that are at the highest risk of causing highway havoc.

In the language of a report card, there’s room for improvement.

Ontario’s cash-strapped government is unlikely to pour new resources into inspection programs, but many gains could be realized by refocusing the money that is already there. And that’s part of the goal of a new two-year project that was launched just a few weeks before Lysyk officially released her findings.

“Our government is listening to the Ontario trucking industry, and we are taking action to ensure we support a safe, productive and competitive industry for years to come,” Associate Minister of Transportation Kinga Surma said at the time.

The goals of easing the regulatory burden on compliant fleets while cracking down on the unsafe operations are not mutually exclusive.

Pre-screening programs such as the Drivewyze service currently being tested in Ontario offer a great way to identify carriers and owner-operators that have stellar safety records, so that hands-on enforcement efforts can be focused on those who raise red flags. (We’re looking at you, ‘Driver Inc.’ fleets.)

A closer look may also be required for the equipment inspected by garages that are ordering more inspection stickers than they can realistically use. About 211 shops ordered 528 stickers per mechanic – about 10 times the provincial average. It would be interesting to see the results of facility audits for fleets which frequent such shops.

Stephen Laskowski, president of the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA), referred to the two-year consultation project as “ground-breaking”. A related association press release used words like “visionary”, “comprehensive”, and “holistic”.

“Never before have we seen a regulatory regime so aligned – from a competitiveness, safety and productivity standpoint – with the needs and behaviors of the many compliant and safe trucking businesses in Ontario,” said OTA’s Geoff Wood.

But the proof of that alignment will emerge in the months to come, as the study begins to produce actual recommendations and changes.

Let’s hope the regulators can graduate from this process with a passing grade.

 

 

 

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