Ontario’s Drive Clean emissions tests have been in place since 1999. Since introduced, they have successfully done their job, with more than 90% of heavy vehicles today reportedly able to pass an emission test. As a result, Canada has some of the best air quality in the world. Ontario believes they can still do more.
Ontario is set to re-design its emissions testing program for heavy-duty diesel vehicles. The new program is expected to be announced this fall and will focus on improving testing. It will also outline new measures to prevent tampering with vehicle emissions control systems.
“Part of the redesigned program will include strengthened enforcement through increased on-road inspections, which will focus on heavy-duty diesel vehicles and heavily polluting modified vehicles to ensure that emissions control components are installed and functioning,” confirmed Gary Wheeler, a spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation, and Parks.
Ontario records around 220 cases of tampering with emissions controls per year. Many of these were due to inexpensive changes, such as blocker plates in the exhaust gas recirculation pipes. However, more sophisticated and costly tampering, such as reprogramming engine electronics, has been linked to larger trucking fleets.
Unlike the province's recently canceled emission testing for light-duty vehicles, heavy-duty Drive Clean tests do not include conditional passes. Heavy-duty vehicles are required to be fully repaired to pass before being registered.
Not everyone in the trucking industry is a fan of Ontario’s emission testing though. Truck drivers have long complained about issues with the emissions aftertreatment systems (ATS), which are mandatory on new heavy-duty vehicles. There are limited ATS technicians as well. This means fleet owners are forced to tow trucks just to fix minor problems on the sensitive ATS sensors.
The Ontario Trucking Association (OTA), the industry’s largest lobby group in the province, balks at the thought of annual Drive Clean tests for the broader industry. They argue that most trucks pass the test on the first try. “Fleets routinely questioned why they should lose one or two days of service productivity for a test their trucks would, statistically, nearly be guaranteed to pass,” the OTA wrote in a statement submitted to the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks.
“Unless there is strong empirical evidence to support the benefits for opacity testing and or [On-Board Diagnostics] testing of all heavy trucks, OTA believes it is time to phase out the heavy-duty program for the same reasons the light duty Drive Clean program was phased out – the overwhelming majority of vehicles pass the test. OTA believes complete OBD testing (two to three hours per truck) or opacity testing of the Ontario trucking fleet is not an effective approach to dealing with trucking industry environmental compliance.”
There are still weeks before Ontario makes a formal announcement, giving the OTA time to plead their case. The province is already assembling groups of stakeholders to help establish the new regulations. Hopefully, the government and industry groups can work together to create a program that benefits the industry and environment.