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Northern MPPs call for safer highways

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New Democrat MPPs from northern Ontario claim the province is allowing the region’s highways to remain unsafe by failing to address issues in the trucking industry.

These NDP members claim some companies are ‘cutting corners’ when it comes to training drivers to get more on the road.

A trucker advocacy group has said that some truck drivers are not being properly trained to handle northern roads – and that it is part of the reason why northern highways have become notoriously deadly.

“Carriers are saying 'I can’t hire newly licensed drivers in Ontario because they are not prepared for the road,'” said Truckers for Safer Highways co-founder Travis McDougall.

“But somebody is hiring them and this is the scary part. Are they getting that supplemental training, at these places where they are being hired? Or are they being given the keys to a truck… not prepared.”

There have recently been public claims that some trucking companies are cheating the licensing system to get drivers on the road fast – leading to unfit drivers travelling on northern roads.

Many NDP MPPs have said that companies that offer their own driving schools are more lenient.

“We knew as early as 2018, from the auditor general’s report, that exactly what Travis is describing has been taking place in driving schools, where they’re self-regulating,” said Thunder Bay-Superior North MPP Lise Vaugois.

“So the company that owns the trucks is also doing the training, pushing people through as quickly as possible.”

Several of Vaugois colleagues said that the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) is allowing poor truck driving to continue by leaving truck inspection stations poorly staffed.

McDougall told CTV News that on a recent trip through northern Ontario, he did not pass through a single opened inspection station.

“They were all closed, every one of them,” he said.

“I never went through one open scale or inspection station until I reached the Manitoba border.”

In light of a recent head-on collision between two transport trucks on Highway 11 along with other accidents involving other commercial vehicles that have already occurred this season, officials said are not looking forward to this season of winter driving in northern Ontario.

Highway 11 was closed for 13.5 hours on Nov. 22/23 following a head-on collision between two commercial motor vehicles. (Supplied/OPP)“Scales need to be open more often, so they check and they address all these dangerous drivers,” said Mushkegowuk-James Bay MPP Guy Bourgouin.

 “Someone will die,” said McDougall.

“And, unfortunately, the government’s position, right now, is Ontario has the safest highways in North America.”

CTV News reached out to the MTO for comment on the closed inspection stations and the Ministry of Colleges and Universities for comment on driver training.

The Ministry of Colleges and Universities responded with a statement that read in part:

"Our government provides high-quality training for the trucking industry and are working collaboratively with stakeholders to ensure the protection of students and our roads. Ontario has standards, set out by the Ministry of Transportation, on mandatory entry-level training for new commercial Class A truck drivers to improve road safety.

Ministry inspectors conduct regular inspections of all private career colleges, including those providing mandatory entry-level training. These inspections are essential to guarantee compliance with the Act (Private Career Colleges Act) and safeguard the interests of vocational students across Ontario."

MTO officials said Ontario’s commercial licensing system is among the most robust in the entire country, in an email to CTV News.

“It is designed to ensure that only qualified individuals operate vehicles, and those who are not law-abiding face stringent penalties,” said an MTO spokesperson.

“Ministry of Transportation officers and police officers regularly inspect commercial vehicles to ensure qualified drivers are operating vehicles safely.”

The MTO said truck inspection stations are staffed and scheduled taking into consideration factors such as traffic volumes, types and patterns.

Both ministries said they are working closely with institutions to address recent concerns that have been raised.

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