The SVAO: Dedicated to the protection and preservation of Specialty Vehicles


APRIL 15th, 2000

Ladies and Gentlemen:

This is the 3rd opportunity I have had to address you at your annual general meeting. I really appreciate the opportunity to be part of this event, and I thank you for the invitation this year as well. I always read your newsletter when it arrives, and I 'm very glad to see that your leadership has taken the approach it has towards the safety inspection of speciality vehicles, namely, to encourage you to be proactive in developing your own safety inspection programs rather than leave it to the government. I believe my message in the past has been very clear - that, at present, the Ministry of Transportation does NOT see a need for a mandatory safety inspection program for speciality vehicles. However, as I have also emphasized in the past, if we did, we would likely look to your association for guidance, and to possibly take some of the responsibility for such a program.

In that situation, an organization like the Speciality Vehicle Association may have input as a stakeholder in the development phase of the program. If that happened, we would definitely be looking at the past practices of the organization and of its members, to determine what involvement by the Ministry of Transportation was appropriate or necessary. This is where your efforts at developing your own safety inspection programs come in.

If we were going to implement such a program, we would need some strong evidence that your inspection programs were effective in ensuring the safety of speciality vehicles. That would go a long ways towards convincing us that you're responsible enough to assist in the delivery of these inspections, and it would be a big step towards establishing and maintaining a relationship with MTO that will allow us both to satisfy our individual goals. Lets face it, your main goal is to have fun with your vehicles, but you also want to keep government's involvement in your hobby to a minimum - that's human nature. However, the Ministry's goal is to ensure the safety of everyone who uses Ontario's roads, regardless of the type of vehicle involved. These two interests, while not completely compatible, are certainly close enough that we should both be able to meet our objectives, and keep everyone, safe, happy, and on the road for a long time to come.

At present, there isn't any unusual pressure on MTO to create a province wide inspection program for speciality vehicles, and we would LOVE to keep it that way. As everyone knows only too well, the resources of all Provincial Government ministries are stretched to the limit, and then some, and we don't need any accidents involving speciality vehicles to complicate things.

Such accidents always draw a lot of media attention and demands from the public for stronger laws and more enforcement, and the Ministry of Transportation must respond to these concerns. It's a simple fact of life that, with any increase in accidents, there is more pressure on the Ministry to do something, and if speciality vehicles are involved, the direction of our attention is obvious.

We all know that the number of accidents involving speciality vehicles has traditionally been very low, and it's easy to explain this. The usual reasons given include the good condition of the vehicles involved, their regular maintenance, the high quality of the engineering used in building and restoring them, the low usage of the vehicles, the incredible skill of drivers like you, and so on. While these are all very valid reasons, I also believe that plain old luck plays a very big part in all of this as well.

For example, when I recall some of the things I did back in the 1960's in my muscle car, I can honestly say that sheer dumb luck was just as responsible for my lack of accidents as my skill as a mechanic or as a driver, and I'll bet that many of you can say the same thing. However, the issue of safety inspections is just too important to leave to Lady Luck. If the McDonnell inquest of 1997 wasn't enough to get everyone concerned, just think what 2 or 3 such accidents in one summer would do!


Please, heed the words of your Executive Committee and get involved, and do everything you can to encourage others to get involved as well. If your club has a safety inspection program, support it by taking your vehicle through, even if it won't pass, or by volunteering to help, or at the very least, support it by NOT criticizing and complaining about it! In a volunteer organization like a car club, there is absolutely nothing so discouraging to somebody who has gone to all the trouble of developing a safety inspection program and setting up a safety lane than to have nobody show up for inspection, or to have everybody badmouthing the program.

If another club has a safety lane going, consider taking your vehicle through it too, and encourage others to go through yours - remember, you're all in this thing together. As well, I would encourage your association to consider a standardized inspection program, with a common inspection criteria, inspection forms, window decals, and so on, that would be recognized by all member clubs. This degree of organization is exactly the sort of thing we are looking for if we were to ever consider a self-managed program for this purpose. If that sort of professionalism is NOT there, think what would happen if the Ministry of Transportation came knocking at your door looking for the results of your safety inspection program. You better have something to show us if you expect us to listen when you tell us how good your intentions are!

Just put yourself in my shoes for a minute. What would you think if a club, or an organization like the Speciality Vehicle Association, had nothing to show you when you came to visit - no formal inspection program to follow, no statistics, no procedures, no policies, no agenda, no promotional material, no formal goals or mission statement for the program? Would you think these people are serious about safety? Would you really think they're responsible? Would you give that group the responsibility of running a safety inspection program for speciality vehicles? Finally, could you go to the public - the average man or woman on the street - and honestly say to them that they don't have to worry about the safety of speciality vehicles anymore, because it's in good hands now? I couldn't do that, and I certainly could not justify a program like that to my Director, and he's the guy that makes the decisions. I know just what his decision would be in that case!

I hope you have been seriously thinking about what I've said, but talk is cheap, even mine, and the most important thing is to actually have a safety inspection program that works. Some car clubs already have safety lanes in operation, and some of these have been well established for years. Clubs like those are a great place to start if you don't have a program now. You might have to look for this information beyond Ontario, or even Canada, but it's worthwhile to see what everyone else is doing and how they do it. You might create a partnership with another club to share the safety lane equipment and responsibilities. Perhaps your corporate sponsors could be persuaded to support this effort, and what about insurance companies - do you think they would be interested to know that you have a safety inspection program in place? I'll bet they would. Also, I don't know if your Association has a safety director, but it should have. As well, it would be a good idea for the Association to form a safety committee that can research the existing programs and bring the results to the membership for their comments and suggestions. In fact, this may complement my earlier suggestion for a co-ordinated approach to a safety inspection program that many clubs could use, instead of each club doing one individually.

As you are all likely aware, our inspection criteria for "Historic Vehicles" in our regulations is not very detailed, and rightly so, since many older vehicles that fit that definition wouldn't pass a "normal" inspection. Regardless, you might still consider using that "normal" criteria as a starting point for a safety program, since it contains a lot of good information. In fact, besides being used to issue Safety Standards Certificates, this regulation is now used as an operating standard for all heavy commercial vehicles on our highways, and it is also the inspection standard for those speciality vehicles that don't fit the definition of "Historic Vehicle" as well.

Please understand, I'm not suggesting that your safety lanes should do the entire inspection that's in the regulation, but it would be a good place to start. Any of you who are involved in a licensed Motor Vehicle Inspection Station already have these standards in your brown Inspection Manual that all stations have, and I will provide a copy to your executive for them to copy. As well, I'm usually just a phone call away and your executive has my number.

In conclusion, I realize this may sound like a lot of boring stuff, but the function of an association like yours is to work towards common goals that will benefit all its members, and that won't happen without your help. While I'm well aware that some of my suggestions may not sound feasible or practical right now, unless you try, you will never know. As well, I must commend your association's efforts in promoting the interests of such a diversified group as yours - I've been there and I know it's not an easy job.

Nothing would make me happier than to be able to tell my boss that - "we don't have to worry about the safety of speciality vehicles, because they already have their act together and they don't need our attention", and I know he would love to hear that too. My comments are intended to encourage you to help me say that, and I hope you've been listening. I really want to see every one of your cars, or trucks, or whatever you have, on the road for many long and safe years to come, and I hope the Ministry of Transportation can be a part of your success.

Thank you for your attention, and have a great summer.

Andy Soutar
Senior Enforcement Policy Advisor
Carrier Safety Policy Office
Ministry of Transportation

Speeches to the Annual General Meeting by:
The Honourable Dan Newman Minister of the Environment Andy Soutar Senior Enforcement Policy Advisor Carrier Safety Policy Office Ministry of Transportation

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