By: David Bradley
A way back in February 1988, in a galaxy far, far away the Canadian Council of Ministers Responsible for Transportation & Highway Safety of the day jointly endorsed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to improve uniformity in regulations covering the weights and dimensions standards for heavy trucks in Canada. (When was the last time that happened on anything? I digress).
The standards were, and still are commonly known as the RTAC standards referencing the now defunct Roads and Transportation Association of Canada whose research formed the basis for the MOU which established minimum and/or maximum thresholds acceptable to all jurisdictions for four types of commercial vehicles operating between provinces and territories on a nation-wide highway system. The original MOU included the following configurations: Category 1: Tractor Semitrailer; Category 2: A Train Double; Category 3: B Train Double; Category 4: C Train Double.
Since the signing of the initial MOU, there have been a handful of amendments to the agreement which have been endorsed by the Council of Ministers. Today there are eight categories of vehicles contained in the MOU. Additions include straight truck, truck-pony trailer, truck-full trailer and intercity bus/recreational vehicle. The most notable of the changes to the MOU that have been introduced since 1988 included the 1994 adoption of the 53 foot (16.2 metres) maximum trailer length which was accompanied by the 25 metre overall tractor-double-semitrailer combination length and the amendments that were approved in 2008 to accommodate the use of wide base single tires and the exclusion of rear aerodynamic devices (aka boat-tails) from the measurement of overall length.
It is to be noted however that changes to the MOU that have transpired since 1988 have been made on an ad hoc basis and not as part of an overall vision such as that which led to the development of the original MOU.
It must be said, the RTAC standards have served the trucking industry, its customers, the motoring public and the country well by creating at the very least a set of minimum allowable configurations that can be used across Canada. However, the agreement is now 25 years old. A lot has changed since the mid-1980s. The technological and design developments that are exhibited in the current fleet of tractors and trailers, that contribute to their safe and infrastructure-friendly operation is nothing short of amazing.
The same can be said for the technology and devices now commonly available to reduce emissions, particularly carbon emissions. There was virtually no consideration of the environment when the RTAC standards were developed in the 1980’s whereas today fuel economy and emissions reduction is a major focus of technological development, vehicle design, regulation and corporate responsibility. Globalization of supply chains, economic competitiveness, increased traffic congestion and the shortage of truck drivers all combine to provide further impetus to maximize productivity.
At one time “simplicity” in terms of the array of vehicles available to the industry was a more prominent consideration amongst many carriers and regulators when determining vehicle design and specifications. However, the need to maximize productivity for the reasons outlined above, along with the ceaseless demands of the customers we serve are driving carriers to be more innovative and sophisticated; to seek more flexibility, more productive alternatives and options in terms of vehicle configurations.
Notwithstanding the MOU, provinces retain authority to permit vehicles with more flexible weights and dimensions, or different configurations, for operations within their jurisdictions. There are now numerous productive configurations currently operating in the various provinces and/or regions.
An ad hoc approach to the MOU is not necessarily the most effective way to establish the optimal truck fleet for today and for the future. Consequently, at its meeting on October 3rd, the CTA Board of Directors endorsed the pursuit of a longer term vision/plan, based on the best available research, to ensure that Canada has the most adaptable, safest, most environmentally sustainable and productive heavy truck weights and dimensions standards for the next 25 years – an “RTAC 2040” if you will. We are now calling upon the provincial and territorial governments to join us in this pursuit. This will be a major effort, just as the development of the original RTAC standards was in the 1980’s. But, it will be well worth the effort.