Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca is pledging to ensure the province is testing tractor-trailer drivers “to the highest possible standards” following a Star investigation into passing rates at DriveTest Centres in Ontario.
The Toronto Star revealed Tuesday that between 2010 and 2014, drivers seeking their class A licence — needed to operate a tractor-trailer — have a better chance of passing their road tests at most DriveTest Centres in smaller communities than on busier and more challenging roads in Toronto.
“The testing centres are responsible to follow the procedures that are set provincewide,” Del Duca said Tuesday at Queen’s Park, adding that he would consult with Ministry of Transportation staff and Serco, the private company that operates DriveTest under contract with the province.
“My understanding, fundamentally, is that procedures that are required provincewide to be followed are being adhered to, are being followed. I know that Serco communicates with the ministry on a monthly basis to provide updates, but I understand there’s been a concern that has been raised and obviously because it deals with road and highway safety, it is something I take very seriously.”
Del Duca said the nature of the truck-driving profession means drivers are not limited to working in one geographic area.
“In many cases, they drive across Ontario, they drive across Canada, they drive right across North America. That means we have to work hard to make sure we are licensing and we are testing to the highest possible standards.”
The passing rates, obtained by the Star using freedom-of-information legislation, are significantly higher in most small towns when compared to the GTA’s three largest truck-testing facilities.
For example, the pass rate in Bancroft, 250 km northwest of Toronto, was 92 per cent.
In contrast, the pass rate at the Woodbridge DriveTest Centre, Ontario’s largest truck-testing facility until it closed in April, was 47 per cent. The pass rate at the Brampton DriveTest Centre was 55 per cent, while the pass rate at Downsview was 67 per cent.
A Serco spokesperson previously told the Star that “pass rates for the A class practical tests form a normal distribution, with the overwhelming majority of the centres clustered closely together in the 65-85 per cent pass range. This is the kind of normal distribution we would expect to see, given we use merit-based testing with no quotas.”
Mike Millian, president of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada, an association that represents companies with large truck fleets, called the minister’s pledge to review the data “positive.”
“We just have to be careful that we don’t have any knee-jerk reactions and we don’t start shutting down rural testing facilities,” Millian said. “We have to balance ensuring that the test is as legitimate as it can be and tests all the driver skills as it can be, but at the same time we also have to ensure that we provide the public services as reasonably close to where these people live as possible.”
Millian noted that many rural testing centres do not have access to major highways. He suggested that mandatory entry-level training to be rolled out by the province next year could incorporate student evaluations to make sure drivers have the necessary skills to drive on 400-series highways.
Last year, a Star investigation revealed that tractor-trailer drivers were earning their licences at the Woodbridge DriveTest Centre without being taken on roads where the speed limit is at least 80 km/h, a ministry guideline.
MPP Michael Harris, transportation critic for the Progressive Conservatives, said “easy-pass” testing facilities heighten safety concerns for all road users.
“Over the last few months, we’ve seen a rash of tragic fatal accidents involving trucks that continue to raise concerns over this minister’s commitment to public safety on Ontario roads,” said Harris, noting Del Duca promised to tackle the issue last year.
“That was after it was revealed that provincial truck testing facilities weren’t even taking potential truckers onto the 400 series of highways, as they were mandated to do,” he said.