Ontario has delayed plans to introduce a special licence endorsement for those who take road tests using an automated manual transmission. But one provincial training expert believes it’s time to tone down the “rhetoric” around the issue.
“Let’s not pretend that roads are going to be less safe by over-emphasizing the value of learning how to shift a manual transmission once in your life,” says Rolf VanderZwaag, president and CEO of Techni-Com.
“Stronger safety arguments may exist in relation to drivers who pass the road test in an empty truck, and the very next day are able to drive a fully loaded B-train through any city in the province.”
Other examples he cites includes drivers who are licensed without ever being exposed to the mountains, but immediately dispatched on a run from Toronto to Vancouver. “Or a driver who gets training and passes the road test in summer, who finally gets a job in winter, and is dispatched without ever having driven in snow.”
Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation had planned to introduce the restricted Class A licence endorsements on July 19, bringing the province’s truck licences in line with other North American jurisdictions. That deadline was delayed as some schools complained they didn’t have the time to order trucks with manual transmissions or re-train staff.
The delay is expected to last as long as a year, leading to criticism by groups including the Truck Training Schools Association of Ontario.
VanderZwaag was a leading consultant in developing the national occupational standards for truck drivers, used to guide the mandatory entry-level training regime in the province.
Early training with a manual transmission is also not enough to ensure drivers are ready to shift gears later in a career, he says.
“Learning to drive a manual transmission requires muscle memory and coordination. This is a skill that can be lost without regular practice,” VanderZwaag says.
“A person who learned to drive a nine-speed transmission well enough to pass the road test five years ago, but drove only automated transmissions since then, cannot be deemed to be qualified to drive an 18-speed transmission through the mountains — regardless of what it says on that person’s driver’s licence.”
The in-cab driving hours defined under mandatory entry-level training may not include enough time for every student to become proficient with a fully manual transmission, he adds.
Ontario was the first province to mandate entry-level training standards before taking a road test for a Class A licence. That includes a minimum of 103.5 hours of training, including 32 hours of on-road and 18 hours of off-road training behind the wheel.
The minimum training still requires “significant on-the-job learning and skill development” for the rookie truck drivers once they’re licensed, he says.