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Alarming report raises serious trucking-safety concerns on Manitoba roads

Provincial oversight of heavy commercial vehicles 'inadequate,' inspection practices 'flawed,' auditor general says

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/12/2019 (234 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Manitoba's auditor general has delivered a sweeping rebuke of the province's oversight of commercial vehicles, which account for about 10 per cent of the traffic on its roads.

In a 65-page report released Wednesday, Norm Ricard said Manitoba's safety-program practices are insufficient and its vehicle-inspection strategies are flawed.

The troubling conclusions are based on an audit conducted between April 2017 and September 2018 that analyzed the province's safety-fitness program, on-road inspections and strategic planning and performance management related to registered heavy-commercial vehicles including semi and straight trucks weighing more than 4,500 kilograms.

Download Commercial Vehicle Safety

The province doesn't adequately vet operators' safety knowledge and practices before issuing safety-fitness certificates and it lacks sufficient checks for what are referred to as "chameleon carriers" — operators shut down for safety violations that do business under a new name, the report said.

Under the existing framework, Ricard said, operators are responsible to self-report if  they've been shut down for safety violations.

And although other provinces use methods such as initial knowledge testing, early review and the submission of safety plans, Ricard wrote that "better practices found in other jurisdictions... are absent in Manitoba."

Sanctioned school's co-owner teaching

The former co-owner of a driving school suspended by Manitoba Public Insurance is training commercial truck drivers at another Winnipeg company.

In November 2018, after a month-long audit that revealed multiple violations including an unauthorized instructor teaching students to drive in a non-approved vehicle, MPI suspended Longview Driving School's operations for five years.

Longview co-owner Jitender Singh Dhalan is currently working as an instructor with Blue Bird Class 1 & 3 Training Centre, where drivers train to operate semi-trailers and other heavy trucks.

The former co-owner of a driving school suspended by Manitoba Public Insurance is training commercial truck drivers at another Winnipeg company.

In November 2018, after a month-long audit that revealed multiple violations including an unauthorized instructor teaching students to drive in a non-approved vehicle, MPI suspended Longview Driving School's operations for five years.

Longview co-owner Jitender Singh Dhalan is currently working as an instructor with Blue Bird Class 1 & 3 Training Centre, where drivers train to operate semi-trailers and other heavy trucks.

Although Dhalan is prohibited from owning a driving school for the duration of the sanction, the audit determined that he would continue to be allowed to hold a permit as a Class 1 driving instructor, MPI spokesman Brian Smiley said Wednesday.

Dhalan declined a Free Press request for comment, but in an interview with CBC Manitoba published Wednesday morning, he expressed remorse for the infractions, which he explained were partly a result of a massive increase in the number of drivers looking to obtain their Class 1 licences before the province implemented stringent training requirements this year.

The changes became a priority across Canada following the devastating 2018 rural Saskatchewan collision of a tractor-trailer and the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team bus. The truck driver ran a stop sign at a highway intersection and crashed into the side of the bus, killing 16 people and injuring 13 others.

The driver pleaded guilty to 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death and 13 counts of dangerous driving causing bodily injury and was sentenced to eight years in prison last March.

The 122-hour Mandatory Entry Level Truck Training Course took effect Sept. 1

Since 2004, MPI has had oversight over driving schools in the province, Smiley said, adding that audits are conducted on a regular basis and can also result from complaints from the public.

— Ben Waldman

While heavy commercial vehicles account for about 10 per cent of the province's registered vehicles, they have been involved in an average of 20 per cent of traffic fatalities over the past five years, Manitoba Public Insurance data shows.

In 2018 alone, 2,086 heavy commercial vehicles were involved in collisions in Manitoba, leading to 11 deaths, 533 injuries and an estimated $135 million in related costs, including medical treatment and property damage.

"Overall we concluded the (Infrastructure) Department needs to do more to ensure commercial vehicle safety," Ricard told reporters at the legislature Wednesday afternoon, detailing 17 recommendations he made to improve the situation.

The report noted that the staffing and function at the province's weigh stations, where the bulk of road inspections occur, had "no sound rationale." 

The Headingley station, which has scales for both eastbound and westbound vehicles and handles the highest volume of traffic, a single officer was scheduled at any given time, despite provincial regulations requiring two in order to ensure vehicles are thoroughly inspected. As well, because only one staff member is present, the scale in one or the other direction is always closed.

"Overall we concluded the (Infrastructure) Department needs to do more to ensure commercial vehicle safety." – Norm Ricard

Ricard noted, however that at the Rosser weigh station, which monitors far less traffic, two officers were regularly scheduled on overlapping shifts to allow for better operation of the single scale.

And he concluded that the schedules at the weigh stations were too predictable, potentially allowing "unscrupulous" drivers to avoid inspection; almost half of truck traffic occurs when major weigh stations are closed, the report found.

And in what Ricard attributed to the province's cold climate, most Level 1 inspections — which entail the inspector assessing a vehicle's underbelly — occur during the summer, meaning that for the bulk of the year, critical safety equipment including brakes, axles and steering components go unchecked.

The report suggests optimizing use of all-weather inspection sheds to address that problem.

In 2018 alone, 2,086 heavy commercial vehicles were involved in collisions in Manitoba, leading to 11 deaths, 533 injuries and an estimated $135 million in related costs, including medical treatment and property damage. (Mike Deal / Free Press files)

In 2018 alone, 2,086 heavy commercial vehicles were involved in collisions in Manitoba, leading to 11 deaths, 533 injuries and an estimated $135 million in related costs, including medical treatment and property damage. (Mike Deal / Free Press files)

The Infrastructure Department did not make anyone available at the legislature to respond to Ricard's findings, but a spokesperson told the Free Press in an email that officials have agreed in principle to each of the auditor general's 17 recommendations.

"(The department) accepts the report's recommendations and has already initiated actions to address many of the issues raised... including improvements in safety-program practices, on-road inspection and planning and performance management," the spokesperson wrote.

Ricard said his office's first followup will come in September 2021, and that he hopes the province will have begun implementing all of the recommended changes.

"The department has been instructed to actively monitor implementation of the OAG’s recommendations," the provincial spokesperson wrote.

ben.waldman@freepress.mb.ca

Ben Waldman

Ben Waldman
Reporter

Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

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