Issue 10(29) / November 2009

No smoke, no dial, no…
Đóńńęŕ˙ âĺđńč˙

No smoke, no dial, no…

It was earlier in October this year when Essex County Ontario Provincial Police pulled over a truck on Highway 401 near Windsor after the driver was seen smoking in the cab.
No smoke, no dial, no...

He was fined under the Smoke-Free Ontario Act, a 2006 law that prohibits smoking in enclosed workplaces and public areas. It may be the first time when an enclosed workplace was interpreted by officials not as bars and restaurants but rather a cabin of a truck.

Although it was legal: according to the Ontario legislation, an enclosed workplace can also be any vehicle covered by a roof and that employees work in or frequent while working. However, the act applies to companies that reside and do business in Ontario only. Many trucking companies, especially that pulling international freight to and from the United States, are federally and not just provincially regulated, which makes them subject to federal non-smoking laws. Section 4 of Canada's Non-Smokers' Health Act allows employers to create "designated smoking areas," including motor vehicles to which only one person has access during a working shift.

It's a complicated distinction that has caused "a fair bit of confusion, particularly at the local enforcement level," according to Doug Switzer, vice-president of public affairs for the Ontario Trucking Association.

"You can't automatically assume that the act of smoking in a cab is illegal, because it may be perfectly legal depending on the company that guy works for," Switzer said. "If he's a company operating under the federal government legislation, as opposed to provincial government legislation, the Smoke-Free Ontario Act would not apply and the charges would not be proper. If he's an owner-operator and he's the only one who ever drives in that cab, probably the charge would not be valid either."

In this case police have not identified the driver or his employer, and it is unknown which category this particular driver falls into. While smoking ban in a trucking cab can still be a sort of controversial issue, truckers have a definite albeit temporarily relief from another provincial ban – to use hand held communication devices, at least some of them.

Ontario’s ban against handheld devices for talking, texting, typing, dialing or e-mailing while driving come into effect for all drivers on Oct. 26. For truckers, however, the ban contains a three-year exemption for CB and other two-way radios in recognition that they need the communication devices until new, fixed devices can be installed.

“Three years should be enough time to implement hands-free solutions and, in fact, several options are available in the marketplace now,” said Bob Nichols, a spokesman for the Ontario Ministry of Transportation.

“Three years will also give companies enough time to review what communications really need to take place while driving,” Nichols said. For the first three months after the ban takes effect, police will only inform truck and car drivers about the new law and its prohibition against such practices as text messaging and using cell phones while driving.

Beginning Feb. 1, 2010, however, police will issue tickets that could cost drivers a fine as high as C$500 for using handheld devices while driving. Police, paramedics, firefighters and anyone using a handheld device to call 911 are exempt.

“There is sufficient evidence to suggest that the new law is directionally appropriate,” David Bradley, president of the Ontario Trucking Association, wrote in a statement assessing the new law.

The trucking association, Bradley said, believes the ministry “has made reasonable accommodation” for the industry. “There is a permanent exemption for satellite, navigation, collision avoidance and other fleet management systems for the viewing of logistical information on the display,” the trucking association said in its statement.

However, the law does not allow a driver to use such devices while holding them in the hand if the vehicle is moving. Bradley acknowledged that the phasing out of handheld CB radios is controversial.

“Given the still-pervasive use of these devices in the industry,” Bradley said, “I expect there could be push-back from some truck drivers.”

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Leading Indicator Trucking Industry Showing Signs of Optimism

In the Ontario Trucking Association’s latest survey of the pulse of the industry conducted during the first three weeks of the fourth quarter shows that a majority (71%) of responding carriers feel the Canadian economy has hit bottom – up from 52% in the third quarter survey. In addition, 64% said they felt the Ontario economy had also hit bottom, compared to only 46% in the previous quarter. The fly in the ointment continues to be the US economy, where a majority (53%), feel that the economy stateside has yet to reach bottom.

Similarly, while the survey points to growing optimism, there remains a significant level of uncertainty about prospects for the next three months. The fourth quarter OTA survey found that 41% of respondents had an optimistic outlook for the remainder of the quarter. Only 22% said they were pessimistic. This is a major reversal from the situation which prevailed at the beginning of the year where a mere 17% were optimistic and a majority (52%) were optimistic. Since that time the share of the optimists has steadily increased while the share of the pessimists has moved in the opposite trajectory. Nevertheless, more than a third (37%) of the survey respondents are still unsure of where things are heading.

According to OTA president, David Bradley, “Obviously, there is a growing sense that the worst is now behind us, which is a very good thing. However, I would inject a note of caution and say that things are relatively fragile. So much of Canadian economic activity is dependent upon trade with the United States and if the US economy continues to falter, then we will be impacted. That, along with the value of the Canadian dollar, continues to be the major wild card in terms of the industry outlook.”

In terms of other industry indicators, the proportion of carriers who believe that freight volumes will increase over the next six months outweighs those who foresee volume reductions by at least 2.5 times for intra-Ontario, interprovincial and northbound US traffic, where 35%, 43% and 38%, respectively, are calling for improvement. Again, a more negative forecast exists for southbound US freight where only 27% see improvement and 24% see decreases in volume. In each lane, the largest proportion of respondents (except for interprovincial where the percentage of those who see volumes increasing is the same as those who see volumes staying the same) forecast freight volumes to be about the same in six months time as they are now.

There are also signs of tightening capacity. Twice as many respondents (42% vs 21%) said that capacity in their segment of the industry had decreased instead of increasing, while 37% say that capacity has stayed the same. A slight majority (51%) expect that over the next six months, capacity in their industry segment will stay the same as it is now, but almost a third (31%) expect capacity to decrease, compared to only 18% who say that it will increase.

The majority of respondents plan to keep their current net complement of drivers and owner-operators the same over the next three months. A majority of carriers (54%) report that access to credit continues to tighten, while only 7% report an easing.

Although somewhat more positive than the third quarter survey suggested, the rate environment remains difficult although there are indications of stability. The majority of respondents expect rates to stay the same over the next six months with about one in five expecting rates to increase over the next six months in the major traffic lanes.

“The current rate environment is not sustainable,” says Bradley. “Rates will adjust. We are seeing some improvement in volume. Capacity is not going to increase. It’s a matter of when, not if.

The OTA Business e-Pulse survey was conducted between October 5th–23rd, 2009. There were 74 carrier respondents, reflecting a broad cross-section of the industry in terms of market segment and size.