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Opinion: Ontario auditor general IDs inspection, training gaps

Posted: December 19, 2019 by George Smagala

It’s no surprise that Ontario’s auditor general has “sharply criticized the Ministry of Transportation” for its record regarding road safety. Governments, both provincial and federal, are negligent and firmly locked in the stone age when it comes to driver training and road safety focus.

Compare, for example, the recent focus on the 110 km/h pilot project — a non-issue — while completely neglecting the huge gap in instructor qualifications and driver training.

So the AG identifies that we have a problem with inspections. That’s news? It’s common knowledge within our industry. It’s an internal ministry problem. And that ship’s captain better fix it soon. It doesn’t take long for those issues to leak down to the roads traveled by Ontario’s 9.5 million licensed drivers.

That ship is listing and will soon sink, assuming those numbers are correct. In addition, the report identified that the annual inspection certificate ordering system “has no automated controls to flag excessive ordering of inspection stickers”. I’d be interested to know how many inspections, per Motor Vehicle Inspection Station mechanic, were approved or “passed” in a 12-month period.

Furthermore, the report suggests that Ontario has a problem with driver training standards. News? I think not. Standards for commercial vehicle instructors are a sham, allowing those who simply possess a Class A licence for five years to become instructors, and there’s virtually no effort to determine their actual experience during those five years.

Is it too much to ask for commercial instructors to achieve a reasonable adult education instructor’s qualification, utilize advanced curriculum, and then combine it with the actual road experience prior to teaching entry-level students? The Ontario Ministry of Transportation’s commercial truck driver training standard does not address the concept of adult education qualifications, by the way. You may be interested to know that Class G instructors are governed by the Highway Traffic Act, specifically Regulation 473/07, while Class A instructors have virtually no standards and certainly no regulations to provide legal obligations.

Additionally, the Driver Certification Program — a seemingly good idea at the time — has been compromised by carriers who obtained the authority and then slowly descaled the process for business reasons. The auditor general’s report spells it out in stats and results.

Truck training schools and carriers should not be setting standards, licensing drivers, nor monitoring for compliance. The passing rate for a commercial licence within Driver Certification Program is 95%, while the Ontario Ministry of Transportatoin’s independent DriveTest exam pass rate is 69%. That number is still too generous when considering the dramatic escalation of commercial-vehicle-involved collisions over the last decade.

Licensing and monitoring responsibilities should instead be assigned to one independent and informed organization, utilizing proven methodology, standards and systems to oversee instructor and driver training while inspecting schools for compliance and integrity.

Furthermore, the disconnect between the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, and Ontario College of Trades – and its eventual successor –have created a disjointed process by which driver training and the schools who provide that training are all over the map when it comes to consistency and maintaining standards.

I have long promoted the idea that only one government agency should be setting standards and monitoring for compliance. No ministers of transportation have responded to my written queries regarding road safety, driver training and legislation.

We’ve had three different provincial ministers of transportation since the last Ontario government. How can you solve any problems when you can’t keep a job long enough to complete a task? None of them has any verifiable experience in transportation, nor do they reach out to those who do. They rely, instead, on uninformed-yet-innocent civil servants to respond with stock form letters of “calm down, the roads are safe, and we’ve got the best safety record on the planet”. My 20 questions to several ministers were actually answered in that manner!

What the auditor general’s report does not speak of are the rapidly rising insurance premiums and the degraded road user experience of the last few decades. The statistics speak for themselves. Read the report, determine your level of concern and then act.

— George Smagala draws on extensive experience as a safety professional, established during 45 years of of work on the road as a driver, and in classrooms as an instructor. The former OTA Road Knight and Driver of the Year has driven more than 5 million collision-free kilometers and is a registered professional trainer, a third-party program assessor, and recently retired transportation safety consultant who specialized in workplace safety.



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